The International Student Experience at US Community Colleges at the Onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic




community colleges, mixed-methods, COVID-19


This study’s purpose is to explore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international students who were studying at U.S. community colleges at the onset of this public health crisis. While previous work has explored the impact of the pandemic on international students generally, we argue that community college international students deserve focused attention due to their potentially marginalized status on their campuses. Using a mixed methods research approach, we analyze survey and interview data provided by community college international educators. Our results speak to two overarching themes: the supports provided to students at the onset of the pandemic (and educators’ reasons for providing these specific supports) and the unique impact of the pandemic on community college international students due to their citizenship or residency status. These findings have important implications for community college leaders and international educators as they work with international students during future times of crisis.

Author Biographies

Melissa Whatley, School for International Training

MELISSA WHATLEY, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of International and Global Education at the School for International Training's Graduate Institute. Her major research interests lie in the areas of access and equity in international education opportunity, international student mobility, and community colleges. Email:

Heidi Fischer, Old Dominion University

HEIDI FISCHER, PhD, is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Foundations and Leadership at Old Dominion University. Her major research interests lie in the areas of community college internationalization, education abroad outcomes, and qualitative international education research. Email:


Anayah, B., & Kuk, L. (2015). The growth of international student enrollment at community colleges and implications. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 39(12), 1099-1110.

Associated Press. (2020). Colleges suffering huge financial blows from pandemic. CBS News.

Bailey, T., & Morest, V.S. (Eds). (2006). Defending the community college equity agenda. The John Hopkins Press.

Boggs, G.R., & Irwin, J. (2007). What every community college leader needs to know: Building leadership for international education. New Directions for Community Colleges 2007, 138, 25-30.

Brown, L., & Jones, I. (2013). Encounters with racism and the international student experience. Studies in Higher Education, 38(7), 1004-1019.

Burke, L. (2020, April 20). ‘A Ghost Town.’ Inside Higher Education.

Cantwell, B. (2019). Are international students cash cows? Examining the relationship between new international undergraduate enrollments and institutional revenue at public colleges and universities in the US. Journal of International Students, 5(4), 512-525.

Castiello-Gutiérrez, S., & Li, X. (2020). We are More Than Your Paycheck. Journal of International Students, 10(3), i-iv.

Castiello-Gutiérrez, S., & Tozini, K. (2020). Universities as global villages: Supporting international students on campus. NAFSA: Trends and Insights, December.

Clark, B. (1960). The cooling-out function in higher education. The American Journal of Sociology, 65(6), 569-576.

Cohen, A.M., & Brawer, F.B., (2003). The American community college (4th ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed.). Sage.

Creswell, J.W. & Plano Clark, V.L. (2018). Designing and conducting mixed methods research. (3rd ed.). Sage.

Crotty, M. (1998). The foundations of social research. Meaning and perspective in the research process. Sage.

Frey, J. H., & Fontana, A. (1991). The group interview in social research. The Social Science Journal, 28(2), 175–187.

Garcia, H.A., Garza, T., & Yeaton-Hromada, K. (2019). Do we belong? A conceptual model for international students' sense of belonging in community colleges. Journal of International Students, 9(2), 460-487.

George-Mwangi, C.A., & Yao, C.W. (2020). US higher education internationalization through an equity-driven lens. In L.W. Perna (Ed.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (pp. 1-62). Springer.

Ghazzawi, D., McKinney, L., Horn, C.L., Carales, V., & Burridge, A. (2020). The road to the baccalaureate. Journal of International Students, 10(2), 420-442.

Glass, C.R., Kociolek, E., Wongtrirat, R., Lynch, R.J., & Cong, S. (2015). Uneven experiences: The impact of student-faculty interactions on international students’ sense of belonging. Journal of International Students, 5(4), 353-367.

Glass, C.R., & Westmont, C.M. (2014). Comparative effects of belongingness on the academic success and cross-cultural interactions of domestic and international students. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 38, 106-119.

González Canché, M.S. (2018). Reassessing the two-year sector’s role in the amelioration of a persistent socioeconomic gap: A proposed analytical framework for the study of community college effects in the big and geocoded data and quasi-experimental era. In M. Paulsen (Ed.). Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research (pp. 175-238). Springer.

Guba, E.G. (Ed.). (1990). The paradigm dialog. Sage Publications, Inc.

Hagedorn, L.S., & Lee, M. (2005). International community college students: The neglected minority?

Hansen, H.R., Shneyderman, Y., McNamara, G.S., & Grace, L. (2018). Acculturative stress and native and U.S. culture immersion of international students at a community college. Journal of International Students, 8(1), 215–232.

Hardy, B.L, & Logan, T.D. (2020). Racial economic inequality amid the COVID-19 crisis. The Hamilton Project.

Human Rights Watch. (2020). US: COVID-19 disparities reflect structural racism, abuses.

IIE. (2019). International student enrollments by institutional type, 1999/00-2018/19. Open doors report on international educational exchange.

IIE. (2020a). COVID-19 Effects on U.S. Higher Education Campuses: Academic Student Mobility to and from China.

IIE. (2020b). COVID-19 Effects on U.S. Higher Education Campuses: From Emergency Response to Planning for Future Student Mobility.

IIE. (2020c). COVID-19 Effects on U.S. Higher Education Campuses: New Realities for Global Student Mobility in Summer and Fall 2020.

Lau, J., Garza, T., & Garcia, H. (2018). International students in community colleges: On-campus services used and its affect on sense of belonging. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 43(2), 109-121.

Lee, J.J. (2020). Neo-racism and the Criminalization of China. Journal of International Students, 10(4), i-vi.

Lee, J.J., & Rice, C. (2007). Welcome to America? International student perceptions of discrimination. Higher Education, 53(3), 381-409.

Lincoln, Y.S., & Guba, E.G. (1998). Paradigmatic controversies, contradictions, and emerging confluences. In N.K. Denzin, & Y.S. Lincoln (Eds.), The landscape of qualitative research theories and issues (2nd ed.) (pp. 163-189). Sage Publications.

Manns, D. (2014). Redefining the Role, Scope, and Mission of Community Colleges in an International Context. Community College Journal of Research and Practice: Community Colleges and Their Internationalization Efforts, 38(8), 705-709.

Meegan, C.K., & Kashima, E.S. (2010). Emotional and self-esteem consequences of perceiving discrimination against a new identity group. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 13, 195-201.

NAFSA. (2020a). NAFSA Financial Impact Survey: Summary Brief.

O’Banion, T. (Ed.) (2019). 18 Ideas that are transforming the community college world. Rowman & Littlefield.

Pfeffer, J., & Salancik, G.R. (1978). The external control of organizations: A resource dependence perspective. Stanford University Press.

Raby, R.L. (2020). Celebrating the Last 10 Years of Community College Internationalization. Journal of International Students, 10(4).

Raby, R.L., Rhodes, G.M., & Biscarra, A. (2014). Community college study abroad: Implications for student success. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 38(2-3), 174-183.

Raby, R.L., & Valeau, E.J. (2016). International education at community colleges: Themes, practices, research, and case studies. Palgrave Macmillian Publishers.

Rice, K.G., Choi, C.C., Zhang, Y., Morero, Y.I., & Anderson, D. (2012). Self-critical perfectionism, acculturative stress, and depression among international students. The Counseling Psychologist, 40(4), 575-600.

Rose-Redwood, C., & Rose-Redwood, R. (2017). Rethinking the politics of the international student experience in the age of Trump. Journal of International Students, 7(3), I-IX.

Saldaña, J. (2016). The coding manual for qualitative researchers (2nd ed.). Sage.

Slaughter, S., & Rhoades, G. (2004). Academic capitalism and the new economy: Markets, state, and higher education. Johns Hopkins.

St. Amour, M. (2020). Federal funding left out some of the most vulnerable. Inside Higher Ed.

Stein, S., & de Andreotti, V.O. (2016). Cash, competition, or charity: International students and the global imaginary. Higher Education, 72(2), 225-239.

The Well. (2020). Carolina to switch to remote instruction, reduce residential density.

Vital, L.M., & Bonds, M.D.S. (2020). Identifying and supporting vulnerable campus populations in times of crisis. Diversity Abroad.

Wang, C. (2020) Let’s stop the scapegoating during a global pandemic. American Civil Liberties Union.

Whatley, M., & Castiello-Gutiérrez, S. (2021). Balancing finances, politics, and public health: International student enrollment and reopening plans at US higher education institutions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. C2i Working Paper Series No. 210201.

Yao, C.W., George Mwangi, C.A., & Malaney Brown, V.K. (2019). Exploring the intersection of transnationalism and critical race theory: a critical race analysis of international student experiences in the United States. Race Ethnicity and Education, 22(1), 38-58.

Yao, C.W., & Viggiano, T. (2019). Interest convergence and the commodification of international students and scholars in the United States. Journal Committed to Social Change on Race and Ethnicity, 5(1), 82-109.



How to Cite

Whatley, M., & Fischer, H. (2021). The International Student Experience at US Community Colleges at the Onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Journal of International Students, 12(1), 42–60.



Research Articles (English)