First, thank you for your patience. It was only four weeks ago that the world required drastic change and yet it feels like another lifetime. Many of you have asked the CCCU about whether we are able to offer room and board refunds for the Spring 2020 semester of our off-campus study programs. We wish we could get you a quicker answer. What we can do is update you on why a final decision is taking some time. We need your grace as we continue to work through this as best as we can. We all have been changed by the last four weeks and we thought you would find it helpful to receive the following as good faith communication so that you might come to a greater understanding of our process.
You may not have been to our offices in Washington, D.C., but we are a small non-profit and many of us are involved in numerous aspects of serving your sending campus. Since bringing all of our students home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CCCU has been working around the clock to advocate for your home institutions in the legislative response to COVID-19 (the CARES Act) that brought some relief to students directly and to campuses (your home campus will have emergency funds for you very soon). Unfortunately, the CCCU did not qualify for the same relief that your campus received. At the same time, a housing refund for you from the CCCU has been a top concern as well. As a small, Christian non-profit, we simply do not have the same multi-million-dollar profit margins as for-profit businesses (like airlines and hotels) or even as other large non-profits. Unlike the dorms on campuses, for most of our programs, the cost of housing is something that has already been paid to host families, landlords, mortgages, and university partners that we did not get back. To process such large refunds across the board means exploring government loan and stimulus packages that are changing every day, as well as making changes to our own staffing structures and program offerings. These are painfully hard decisions, and we are trying to delicately navigate this process.
We are a missional organization. We believe in the importance of Christian higher education, and in the value of having our students engage with the world. We love the programs you were engaged with deeply, and we care about each of our staff members who operate these programs as well as each of you our students. Navigating the economic future will be a challenge for us, like so many small businesses.
We also want to acknowledge the deep loss that you feel. Many of you are missing out on aspects of your program experience that you were looking forward to most. This global pandemic has impacted everyone in such a dramatic way, and we acknowledge that this experience of remote learning is different from what all of us anticipated. We also acknowledge that many people around the world have lost their jobs and even their lives to this crisis. We pray for all of those who are suffering.
We are diligently working on each program’s particular variables and working towards a solution that is right for the people connected to us, and most of all for you and your sending campus. We see you and we hear you, and we are doing our best. We will be in touch with a final determination in the weeks ahead. We appreciate you working with us.
Today we are happy to report that all of BestSemester students have made it home safely. We are grateful to God for opening pathways for our students to get home when many countries were shutting their borders around the world. At present we are working on teach-out plans for each program and have already begun remote instruction.
Our prayers are with you as we continue to navigate this unprecedented pandemic at home and in our local communities. In the coming days we will be updating this web page with answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
Over the last 24 hours, you like your campus peers are coming to terms with the fact that the remainder of your semester will not be as you hoped or planned. We recognize that there is immense disappointment in not being able to finish out your off-campus semester. We hear you. We empathize with you. We are praying for you as this becomes an unwelcome reality.
The CCCU understands your desire to stay. We thought about having you stay as we evaluated next steps. Please know that this decision was not made lightly. While some locations have not been affected by the virus as badly as others at this point in time, the world is facing a global pandemic (as declared by the World Health Organization this week). We also realized after the President’s address on Wednesday that our own government will continue to impact without notice the travel and mobility of people around the world. The CCCU considered the following factors when deciding that the best decision overall was to conclude the residential component of our program early and finish in a new yet unexpected way:
- The CDC recommendation for higher education institutions to consider bringing students home from study abroad.
- The WHO declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic.
- The State Department declaring a level three global travel warning
- The unprecedented U.S. travel ban from Europe, many other countries banning travel, and the uncertainty of future travel restrictions.
- The global response of colleges and universities who are sending their students home, recalling study abroad students, as well as requests from many CCCU campuses for BestSemester to do the same.
At this point the CCCU decided that getting you back home as quickly as possible before things get worse was a wise course of action even if disruptive. We know that this decision impacts trips, housing etc. This is a rapidly changing situation, and we are conscientiously evaluating all of the financial implications for the program and for students. We will provide you with more information as soon as possible.
This decision has very real consequences for our programs. We believe in their mission and the importance of experiential education, and we too are deeply saddened by this situation. We also humbly pause to recognize that people are dying, and we must all seek perspective in the midst of this disappointment. It is the most vulnerable populations in the world (the poor, elderly and ill, etc.) who are most at risk right now, and by following global health recommendations and by flying back now before it does get worse, we may help reduce infection rates. We see this as being in line with our values and our calling as Christians. Choosing to see it this way is an opportunity to live these values out.
This doesn’t mean that your sadness and frustrations aren’t real. Please know that we understand, respect, and sympathize with the loss you feel. We are in an unprecedented historical moment and we responded in a way that was based on the best possible information and advice. Your programs are committed to working with you to complete your credits remotely. We hope that you have enjoyed your time on the program thus far, and that when the dust settles, you look back on your experience fondly despite these difficult circumstances.
The CCCU BestSemester Team
Dear Members of the CCCU BestSemester Community,
Like you, the CCCU continues to closely monitor the evolving updates on COVID-19 and is paying close attention to news and advisories coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and the broader higher education and study abroad communities. In light of the totality of the circumstances, we are adjusting our off-campus programming for the remainder of the semester. All of us are being asked to do our part for the good of the many. As Christians, we believe that we can be up to that task even with some sacrifice to ourselves.
Action plan moving forward:
First, the CCCU off-campus programs will shift to online programing or available substitute options within the next week through the end of the semester.
We lament that the off-campus experience will be in some way altered by the reality of this global health crisis. The CCCU, in coordination with the students’ sending campuses, will work with students to finish their semesters as best as possible given the experiential nature of the curriculum. Additional details for the teach out plan for each program will be provided by the program’s specific director.
Second, by the end of next week (or earlier, depending on the program), the residential component of all of our Spring 2020 BestSemester off-campus study programs will conclude.
Given the nature of the programs around the world and the individualized schedules, the programs are working with their students to make travel arrangements that are consistent with the program circumstances. To the extent possible, we are encouraging students to coordinate with parents, emergency contacts, and campuses.
Students will receive further instructions from their program directors regarding next steps.
The CCCU has been in frequent contact with campus faculty and staff and will continue to monitor travel advisories and share important updates. Please continue to check our website for additional updates. Our offices will remain open for questions or concerns.
Thirdly, as of today, we remain optimistic that the Oxford Summer Programme from June 11-July 13, 2020 will proceed as planned.
Grateful to God
The CCCU is grateful for the close communications from our sending campuses and the wisdom they have displayed. The CCCU is also grateful for the hard work, ingenuity, care, and flexibility of our program directors and staff teams who love their students and will work diligently to care for each student until they are home. As I often say, “We are in this work together.” It is my hope and prayer that we will be open-hearted learners to all that God is teaching us through this particular health emergency. It is also my prayer that our CCCU institutions and programs will be a witness to many that even while we prepare, we trust God for the future.
In this work and world together,
Shirley Hoogstra, President
Council for Christian College & Universities
General Update 3/10/20
As expected, the number of confirmed cases in China continues to decline while cases continue to grow in the US and around the world. This has been anticipated by the CDC, and while we believe this calls for all of us to be extra vigilant, we are committed to continuing to offer academically enriching, experiential education programs through this summer and fall.
As we move forward with planning to offer our summer and fall programming, we will closely monitor the CDC, WHO, OSAC, and U.S. Department of State’s recommendations and travel advisories regarding COVID-19. Additionally, each program is developing a plan in the event we should need to quarantine or isolate students. We’re also addressing hygiene practices with all students and are asking that students not attend lectures and/or programmatic functions until they are 24-hours symptom and fever free.
For students currently attending our spring programs, we’ve given every student the option of returning home early if they so choose. For those students who self-select to return home early, we will try to the best of our ability to work with them to complete their remaining coursework remotely. We’ve also canceled the spring travel component of our Middle East Studies Program at the recommendation of the Jordanian ministry of health, and will be staying in Jordan for the remainder of the semester.
It goes without saying that all of this is subject to change at a moment’s notice, but we are prepared for that as well and are committed to keeping you updated every step of the way. We continue to pray for all those affected, and for guidance as we navigate the challenges this virus has presented for our schools and our students.
Los Angeles, CA Update 3/6/20
California declared a state of emergency Wednesday after reporting its first coronavirus death. As of this update there are now 60 people in California with confirmed cases of COVID-19. With an understanding that this emergency declaration is mostly out of an abundance of caution and that our students remain at a very low risk of contracting the virus, we’ve taken the following measures at our L.A. Film Studies Center:
- We’ve consulted with CCCU schools in California who are responding in a similar manner.
- We’ve restricted spring break travel out of the country.
- We’ve communicated with all students regarding good hygiene practices, and have encouraged them to stay home from work, class, and filming in the event they are feeling unwell.
- We’ve offered to work with students to complete their coursework remotely in the event they would like to leave the program early.
- We’ve developed tripwires and contingency plans in the event one of our students contracts or is in close contact with someone else who has contracted the virus.
At present, we recognize that we will likely see an increase in coronavirus cases across the US. We will continue to monitor the news, but see no reason to disrupt or pause programming any further for the educational and professional benefit of our students—many of whom are graduating seniors and have been looking forward to attending LAFSC throughout their collegiate career.
General Update 3/4/20
Given the unique international nature of our work in sending students abroad, we wanted to update you on our program plans in light of the ongoing situation with the coronavirus (COVID-19). Though none of our program locations and travel sites are major centers of infection, we are closely monitoring the situation worldwide.
On Sunday, March 1st the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement recommending that Institutions of Higher Education “consider postponing or canceling student foreign exchange programs” and “consider asking current program participants to return to their home country.” Today our risk management committee attended a briefing by the Washington Higher Education Secretariat and met to discuss these considerations along with additional sources of information copied below from the World Health Organization, U.S. Department of State, Forum on Education Abroad, and NAFSA: Association of International Educators (just to name a few).
As of this notice, we have decided not to suspend any of our programming, but are restricting travel to all countries listed on the CDC’s COVID-19 country specific risk assessment list as well as any countries with State Department travel warnings due to coronavirus. We have been in touch with all of our students, and will continue to send regular updates out to our campuses. As new information is shared with us, we will continue to update this resource list on our website. Additionally, to the best of our ability we will work with any student who out of an abundance of caution would like to return home to complete the remainder of their coursework for the spring semester.
Though the unknown nature of this situation can be alarming for parents and campuses, we were reminded today by the Forum on Education Abroad that young, healthy students are at low risk for developing any serious complications from coronavirus. Good hygiene practices such as frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer will go a long way in ensuring the ongoing health and wellbeing of our students.
Please rest assured that we have contingency plans in place in the event we need to change travel plans at any point in time. Thank you for your continued support and trust. Please join us as we continue to pray for those impacted by the virus and that we will start to see a decline in the number of new cases being reported.
COVID-19 Higher Education Resources: