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The Question You Might Be Afraid To Ask

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August 20, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

I hope you are as well as the situation allows and finding ways to relax and recharge as we gear up for another academic year. As I connect with colleagues in the field, I have been impressed with the resilience I see in so many of you who spent the summer preparing for multiple Fall 2020 scenarios on your campus. Most campuses have been confirming and reconfirming go-forward plans over the past weeks, which is exhausting and all-consuming work. I know it is overwhelming, and I want you to know that from IFSA’s vantage point, we see campus colleagues handling this situation with grace, commitment to the integrity of our field, and the kindness that is typical of international educators.

In my conversations with you, I have had numerous discussions about IFSA’s future and how providers will weather this extended disruption in student mobility. After the third discussion, I realized that virtually everyone has these questions, but not everyone may have the opportunity or desire to ask us directly how we are doing. Put more bluntly, many of you may be wondering: will IFSA survive?

Organizational health is not a topic we usually discuss, but right now, it probably should be. As partners, you know that we and others made very difficult decisions this spring that impacted many valued staff members. It can be hard to interpret those decisions relative to the future stability of your partner organizations, and recent closures, private equity buyouts, and bankruptcies only exacerbate the fear that providers, in general, are in trouble. I am writing to you to share my perspective on IFSA now and in the future.

As president and CEO of a nonprofit, my primary responsibility is to preserve IFSA’s mission. My team and I are stewards of the organization, focused on sustaining the mission and strengthening the organization for future generations of leaders, partners, and participants. The reduction in force we enacted in April resulted from long-range planning to ensure IFSA’s sustainability through an extended downturn lasting many months, if not years. We made very difficult decisions thoughtfully and early, with the goal to do this only once, for our sake and yours. Our planning has positioned us to sustain through low or no enrollments for multiple terms.

A few answers to other questions you may have about IFSA:

  • We are stable on multiple levels: we have stable leadership and a strong team globally, and we remain committed to the countries where we currently operate.
  • Thanks to the foresight of IFSA’s Board of Directors, we have an endowment to help us through the coming terms. We have no debt and have reduced our infrastructure expenses, which allows us to stretch our resources out considerably.
  • Because we have the resources we need, we evaluate enrollment through the lens of pandemic response and risk mitigation first and worry about actual numbers second. Our program viability criteria will evolve for spring as we gain nuanced experience within this context, but our first priority will always be what is best for the student and reasonable under the circumstances.
  • While we continue to support some fall activity plus our spring applicants, we are using this extraordinary time to double down on strengthening the organization.

The last point speaks to IFSA’s future. In this year of upheaval, we remain focused on advancing our mission and organizational commitments, using our time and staff talents to accelerate that work. We have shared some of these new efforts with you already, such as the You Belong Here initiative. We are working on many curricular enhancements at our sites, along with plans to evolve all of our experiential learning opportunities, maximizing their potential as high-impact practices. Through all of this, we continue to focus on how IFSA can assist in addressing the challenges our field and higher education face.

I hope these insights are helpful in understanding the internal dynamics of IFSA. We are a long-standing, well-respected organization in the field, and we are in this for the long haul. Whether in four months or 14, we look forward to welcoming your students to our programs again in the future.

With warm regards,

Heather Barclay Hamir, Ph.D.
IFSA President & CEO