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The president of NAFSA: Association of International Educators issued a statement Tuesday in relation to a guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention telling colleges to "consider" canceling upcoming exchange programs and to "consider" asking current program participants to return to their home countries in light of the global spread of the new coronavirus.

The CDC statement was ambiguously worded, causing some confusion and concern among international education professionals. While many colleges have canceled programs in specific countries with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, the CDC statement advising colleges to re-evaluate all their exchange programs caught some by surprise.

NAFSA’s president, Ravi Shankar, said that NAFSA had “confirmed with the CDC that the guidance issued on March 1 is not intended to apply to international students studying in the United States, rather the guidance is meant to inform decisions related to American students studying abroad.”

More broadly, Shankar said NAFSA "recommends that each institution work with state and local public health officials to determine the best approach for its students and scholars, which we recognize many members are already doing … We urge policy makers to safeguard the fundamental purposes of international education while seeking to preserve public health."

The CDC did not respond to a request for comment.

Universities have begun taking steps in response to the new CDC guidance. New York University announced Tuesday it was suspending "all upcoming nonessential international university-related travel" in light of the guidance.​ While in-person classes continue at most NYU study abroad sites, NYU has contacted students who are studying abroad to give them the option of returning home to continue their studies remotely if they wish.

The University of Pittsburgh said Tuesday it was canceling all spring break study away programs that involve air travel and requiring students studying abroad in France, Germany and Spain -- all countries with increasing number of COVID-19 cases -- to return to the U.S.