Over the last five years, we’ve seen the increased efforts of state and local governments, foundations, employers, and colleges and universities to reduce the education equity gap. As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses in the United States, early indicators suggest that the virus is unraveling that work.
What was initially pronounced as a “great equalizer” is instead mirroring societal inequalities across race and socioeconomic status that already exist. CDC data indicates that Black, Latinx, and Native communities have higher rates of infection and death. The same communities disproportionately bearing the economic impact through lost jobs are also those who find themselves dubbed “essential” and on the frontlines—often without a college degree. When the dust settles from the pandemic, we will likely find our equity gaps have widened.
The initial response to COVID-19 has focused on getting students enabled for virtual learning, which includes making sure students have access to computers and internet connection. This is worthy and necessary work, but it is not sufficient; these students continue to have unmet basic needs (e.g. shelter, food, or income) or heightened feelings of emotional distress. Our action or inaction will support our students’ continued presence on campuses, or sadly their departure.
What can campus leaders do? We’ve gathered examples from schools doing the necessary work to create connection points for students.
Haven't yet addressed digital connectivity? Here's how to get started
By this point, many schools have already addressed digital connectivity needs for their students. If you haven’t, this is where you need to start, especially as digital connectivity could continue to be an issue for students in the fall, if courses remain virtual.
We found that public colleges and systems can often negotiate rates with providers, which could be included in the total cost of attendance and subsequently covered for their academic year.
10 strategies to address equity challenges
Connect students to financial support
Everyone is hyperaware of the fragile state of the economy, and students are no exception. With anticipated changes in enrollment decisions campus leaders must provide comprehensive, yet timely tools and resources for students to address the loss of income and change in day to day responsibilities.
Maintain personal connection to college
The shift to digital and remote instruction has created or exacerbated academic challenges for many students, but it can also improve equity in the classroom if done well. To help students navigate this transition, enlist faculty and staff to connect with students through multiple communication channels, such as Zoom, phone, text, or email. By encouraging the use of campus technology and apps, you are empowering students to create connection points to staff, peer support, and resources.
COVID-19 is highlighting the very real consequences of education inequity on our health and lives: many of us who have the privilege of working remotely and sheltering in place can do so in part because of our college degrees. We must do our part to offer the same opportunities for those who have been systemically excluded and left vulnerable. At this critical moment in higher education, our focus on human connection will strengthen our ability to weather whatever comes our way.
More on student equity
Advance your student success and equity goals
Download the diagnostic to highlight key opportunities for improvement within your student success strategy and to identify factors that contribute to racial, socioeconomic, and gender gaps in student outcomes.