Most US colleges will adopt a hybrid learning model for Fall 2020

US campuses will look and feel very different this fall as colleges adapt course delivery to enhance student and faculty safety during the COVID-19 crisis. A new survey conducted by the Institute of International Education (IIE) indicates that most students enrolled at US colleges and universities this fall will be learning according to a hybrid model combining in-person and virtual instruction. Fully 92% of 520 responding US higher education institutions – collectively enrolling more than 500,000 students – participating in the study said they will be introducing a new instructional approach compared with previous semesters, and of these institutions, 87% will be offering a hybrid model.

The survey found that the vast majority of institutions have adopted a novel learning approach dictated by COVID-19 safety requirements and travel restrictions during the current summer season, a switch that is preparing them for the fall semester beginning in September. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of responding institutions moved to online-only course delivery this summer. Another 20% have been using a hybrid model to deliver course content to their students. As for their international students, colleges mainly reported strong retention from spring to summer of 2020. Just over 300 institutions of the 530 participating in the survey hosted a combined total of more than 40,000 international students on their campus as of summer 2020. They reported that most of the international students enrolled on-campus in the spring had continued their courses in the summer as well.

Another 7,300 new or continuing students enrolled for the summer semester were not able to come to the US because of COVID-19.  The survey report notes that US institutions’ approach to managing international enrolments has evolved since the early months of the coronavirus crisis: “Earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities were more likely to offer a leave of absence, deferment, or refunds to students. As institutions have developed virtual courses for all students, more colleges and universities have pivoted to offering virtual enrolment.”


Only 5% of reporting institutions said they plan to offer exclusively in-person learning this fall, representing a sea change in the way students were learning in the US compared to September 2019. In fact, fully 92% of institutions said that their instructional plan for fall 2020 is completely new, different than anything they’ve ever done before. For the vast majority, the way forward – at least for now – is hybrid learning, with 87% of institutions planning to take this approach in the fall of 2020. Only 5% planned to offer virtual-only learning.  As for what hybrid learning will actually look like, it varies. Some of the institution-wide approaches include:

  • “Limiting in-person instruction to a certain percentage (e.g., 20% of classes will be held in-person);
  • Restricting in-person instruction to class size (e.g., maximum eight students or fewer for in-person instruction);
  • Offering in-person instruction until a specific date, such as Thanksgiving, after which instruction will be online;
  • Only allowing in-person instruction for certain types of classes, such as labs or practicums.”


Student and faculty safety is of the utmost concern as US institutions head into the fall semester. High numbers of institutions say they will adopt the following safety measures:

  • Face coverings for all on campus (94%)
  • Restrictions on on-campus events (89%)
  • Restrictions on social areas on campus (86%)
  • Regular symptom monitoring for all on campus (78%)
  • Reduced class sizes (77%)


Over 9 in 10 institutions said that they believe most of their current international students will stay enrolled through fall 2020. But the majority anticipate fewer new international students enrolling in their programmes for 2020/21 based on applications so far.


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