When I was a college soccer referee, I routinely worked a lot of D-2 games in West Virginia. Some of the schools in the Mountain East and the Great Midwest conferences were in towns where there were at least a few economic clusters that exported tangible goods and services. Wheeling had a steel mill. Charleston had the state government. Fairmont had a fairly significant federal services clusters. These towns had multiple export producing industries where the town and its residents produced services that out of region money paid for.
However, there were several absolutely gorgeous three hour drives to the middle of nowhere in the first week of October that ended up in tiny hamlets where the minuscule campus was the only export industry in the town. These towns may have been coal towns at one point, but now they existed to support the college with under 2,000 enrolled students. The academic staff produced educational goods that were in surplus to local requirements. Some of the colleges had 15-20% international composition (at those schools, the men’s soccer team was 75% British Commonwealth… those matches were FUN!). The academic business model was predicated on the international students paying list price before the semester started.
How do those schools survive and re-open in September? Who is travelling internationally and what families are going to be plopping down $30,000 or $40,000 in cash for an education at non-brand name US universities when economic uncertainty and asset prices have crashed? Even if there was no regulatory barrier, what is the value proposition that a little college in the middle of nowhere can offer to an international student? A distance learning program runs into significant federal regulatory problems as well as a value proposition problem for international students. A significant chunk of the value of a US education for an international student is socialization with future leaders of the global hegemonic power. That is achieved by 2 AM bull sessions in the dorms, long hikes along mountain ridges in September, watching cartoons during a break from differential equations. That is not achieved by logging into a ZOOM class room from 6 time zones away from the instructor.
So what happens to the little colleges that are in the middle of nowhere towns this September? What happens to the towns where those colleges are the only export economic cluster?