Close to 9,000 exchange students enrolled at The University of Texas at Dallas are subject to a recent federal decision barring foreign individuals from taking a fully online course load.

International students are limited in the number of online classes they can take outside of a pandemic, said Juan Gonzalez, UT Dallas’ dean of graduate education, who also oversees the International Student Services Office. Those restrictions were relaxed earlier this year when COVID-19 forced many universities to shut down.

“We were hoping that the same thing was going to happen in the fall, but we will find a way to accommodate the students,” Gonzalez said. “I’m hoping that the final ruling gives a little more clarity on what will happen if we need to go fully online.”

UT Dallas announced in mid-June its plan to offer online, in-person or hybrid classes next semester. The latter two options comply with the order; however, Gonzalez said the news set nerves on edge.

“Students are afraid of what the implications are,” he said. “A lot of them are having difficulty understanding ... the details about this ruling.”

International students who may be at higher risk for contracting the virus are not exempt from the order. However, UT Dallas will do its best to serve those individuals while still working within the framework of regulations, Gonzalez said.

The university typically welcomes around 3,000 international students each fall. This year, new exchange students will be educated virtually, Gonzalez said.

As a result, the university will offer asynchronous courses so students can watch pre-recorded lectures rather than tuning into class at a specific time. That way, students across the globe can complete coursework according to their time zone.

“We are very mindful of our international population, and we need to find ways to accommodate those students who will be remote during that first semester,” he said. “Hopefully, they will join us again in the spring.”

There could be funding implications for UT Dallas if international students choose not to re-enroll, Gonzalez said. The bigger impact, however, is the potential blow to the university’s deeply-held belief that international students are a vital underpinning of its culture and community.

“The implications to our mission, to our teaching, to our research and to our community that we’ve built are much more valuable than any effect that we will have, budgetary-speaking,” he said.

International students are huge contributors to the economy, and many of them stay in the area post-graduation, Gonzalez said. According to a recent study by the university, 59% of UT Dallas graduates remain in Dallas-Fort Worth, and 76% stay in Texas.

“Some of them stay here, and they will become taxpayers,” Gonzalez said. “They will be part of our fabric, they will have jobs, they will create jobs and they will create new opportunities.”

The announcement does not stipulate plans for a possible second wave, but Gonzalez said he hopes the federal government will grant another exemption if universities are forced to shut down again in the fall.

“Many of these students have come thousands of miles with a dream to get a career, to get a degree from us,” he said. “We’re here to deliver; that’s our mission, and we are going to do that.”