The unprecedented national and global response to the COVID-19 pandemic has touched every aspect of our lives. I am a biologist by training. Seeing this crisis unfold has made me incredibly proud of my friends and colleagues in the scientific and medical communities who are fighting on the front lines. I’m also grateful that colleges and universities took the lead to “flatten the curve” by implementing social distancing through campus closures and moving online well before other sectors of society.
Without the ability to predict when students will be able to return to campus, we will likely see important and unpredictable consequences for retaining these students to next fall. To mitigate the impact on fall persistence, we have anticipated some upcoming challenges that you can start planning for now to help students return when you reopen. This crisis can be an opportunity to showcase how your college and your staff support and care for your students.
Advising and student services offices might not be set up for virtual support
Students will need more access to their campus support networks than ever before. Unfortunately, your ability to deliver this support is being disrupted by the migration to a virtual world. The good news is that you may already have plenty of useful tools at your disposal.
What to do: Implement quick platform tweaks to your Student Success Management System that can enable virtual support.
Advisors at many EAB partner institutions use Navigate, a Student Success Management System, to enable their work with students and improve retention rates. Navigate Strategic Leaders have been working with their partner institutions to adapt the platform to serve their needs. Recommendations include:
- Enable text messaging in the platform to proactively communicate with students through their preferred medium
- Create special virtual “locations” for advising offices and other care units to allow students to make virtual appointments
- Use Advanced Search and Reports to identify students with specific alerts, categories, or tags who might be disproportionately affected (e.g. students who are parents, international students, Pell-eligible students).
You can find their full recommendations by logging into Navigate and accessing the help center.
Many displaced students need support with basic needs and adjustment to life away from campus
Students who are dependent on campus housing and dining could be experiencing trouble having their basic needs met. Students who are used to in-person instruction may not have access to computers or tablets necessary to migrate to online learning
What to do: Send proactive communication offering support to students that are most likely to have challenges (e.g. Pell-eligible students and international students).
Navigate users can also use the Quick Poll feature in Navigate to do pulse checks on how well your students are adapting.
Students may encounter unexpected logistical barriers as they register for the fall term
Registration at many schools relies on in-person contact with advisors or faculty. Absent this, you may see an increase in unresolved issues that fall through the cracks. Be on the lookout for unique registration issues that might arise from staff working from home and being away from their normal resources and processes.
What to do: Send proactive re-enrollment campaigns this spring and summer.
Colleges and universities with Navigate can also use the platform to aggregate responses and look for unusual patterns and unexpected systemic problems.
Students may have unusually large amounts of unpaid balances and bursar holds
The economic impact of the pandemic will be unlike anything we have seen before. Workers who can’t work from home are suddenly finding themselves locked out of jobs. Many have already been laid off. Unlike the gradual decline we saw during the financial crisis, this change has happened suddenly and is disproportionately impacting our lowest income families, which in turn could deepen the impact of holds on underserved populations. Students who relied on jobs in the retail and service industries to pay tuition will face immense and long-term financial challenges. To make it worse, many will not be able to fall back on parents who are also seeing their hours reduced or eliminated.
What to do: Install or expand your emergency grant programs.
These programs are proven to help students remain in school despite owning student account balances. You should also consider raising or temporarily suspending your bursar hold threshold in order to allow impacted students to register for the next term. Even before the pandemic, many schools had raised their thresholds to $1,000 or more.
Now that students are remote, are you ready to help them succeed?Support remote students
Students may have trouble passing face-to-face classes that suddenly moved to a virtual environment
The adjustment to a virtual lifestyle is tough on all of us, and we cannot assume students who grew up as digital natives will seamlessly adjust to this change. Some students will struggle with passing classes taught online if they lack the requisite technology, if they’re enrolled in courses that have not translated well to the modality (e.g., labs, studio courses), and if they have other priorities, like caring for family members, competing for their attention.
What to do: Use your early alert system to monitor for increased signs of academic distress.
Faculty at Navigate schools should use Progress Reports and Alerts to notify advisors and other support staff about students they worry might need help making the adjustment. Case management tools enable staff to collaborate with assisting students who show signs of heightened anxiety or stress stemming from the pandemic.
Students may need to update their academic plans
Students who fail or are forced to withdraw from school because of pandemic-related issues will immediately need new academic plans to put them back on track. This could include taking advantage of summer classes once their situation stabilizes.
What to do: Catch students as soon as they withdraw and make a plan with them so they are ready to go once they return to school.
We recommend prioritizing students who are close to graduation (and therefore close to running out of financial aid eligibility). Navigate users with Smart Guidance can use the Academic Planning module, which include a shared workspace to facilitate collaborative schedule building between students and advisors. Further guidance on academic planning and COVID-19 can be found in the help center on the Navigate platform
Want to take a bigger step forward on student success?
Working through these immediate challenges is likely to highlight many ways in which your college or university could be better supporting your students and ensuring that they graduate. Some of these will be well known to you, while others may be revealed for the first time. Working on these deeper structural improvements will be necessary to ensure that those students whose lives have been most disrupted by the pandemic can remain enrolled and complete their degrees.
What to do: Download our new Student Success Playbook and share it with your team.
EAB recently compiled over a decade of student success research and experience into a set of fourteen core recommendations for retaining more students and delivering a return on education. Several EAB partners have already used this document as a kind of diagnostic for assessing their current practices and crafting plans for future strategy. Please reach out to me or your Strategic Leader if you have questions or would like to learn more.
The COVID-19 pandemic will reshape our lives for the weeks and months to come. We sincerely hope that you will find these suggestions helpful in your effort to support students through this difficult period and ensure that they can seamlessly return to campus once the worst has passed.
EAB will continue to publish resources to assist with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Please keep an eye on our COVID-19 resource center in the coming days and weeks and do not hesitate to reach out to us if we can be of further assistance. Stay healthy and safe.