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A Silver Lining? COVID-19 Reforms May Improve Student Support

Episode 29

October 6, 2020 37 minutes


Ed Venit and Meacie Fairfax talk about how the pandemic is motivating schools to modernize antiquated legacy processes that have always made it more difficult than necessary for students to register, see an advisor or complete administrative tasks.

They discuss how this move to a more student-centric culture is a departure for higher education, but that virtual advising, revamping bursar holds, and streamlining access to student support services (among many other changes) are already paying dividends.

Finally, Meacie and Ed discuss the importance of “triaging” student support requests and reducing the number of touchpoints a student must work through before she finds answers to questions on everything from financial aid forms to campus housing options. These changes can go a long way toward helping students feel more supported and connected to the campus community, even when everyone is online.


00:09 Matt Pellish: From EAB, I’m Matt Pellish, and this is Office Hours. COVID-19 drastically changed the way the world does business. Everybody moved into a world of contactless interaction, streamlined services, anything from restaurants, retail stores, big businesses, mom and pop shops, everybody modernized, mobilized their approaches to meet the needs of their customers and their communities. Likewise, the pandemic motivated a lot of colleges, universities, to update some of their own antiquated processes, their old systems, that were making basic transactions more difficult for their constituents who matter the most, their students. On today’s episode, we welcome EAB’s student success duo of Meacie Fairfax and Ed Venit to talk us through some of these updates. They’re gonna discuss how the recent move to a more student-centered culture… It’s new for many in higher education, but the approaches of virtual advising, revamping financial holds, streamlining support services, among a lot of other things, they’re already paying dividends. Meacie and Ed also discuss triaging student requests to reduce the touch point, the time it takes for a student to answer the questions that they need, making them actually feel more supported, more connected, even when everyone’s online. Thanks for listening, and welcome to Office Hours with EAB.

01:29 Ed Venit: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the latest episode of EAB’s Office Hours podcast. My name is Ed Venit, I lead our student success research here at EAB.

01:38 Meacie Fairfax: And my name is Meacie Fairfax and I focus on equity research.

01:42 EV: We recently spoke with you in a different podcast episode earlier this year about equity and anti-racism. Highly suggest you go check that out, it was a great conversation, and so when we had the opportunity to get back on the, I guess, the pod with you, we jumped at the opportunity. So, Meacie, why don’t you set up what we’re gonna talk about today?

02:02 MF: Yeah. The pandemic has really challenged all of us in a lot of ways that we could not have imagined, both physically, financially, mentally, and culturally, and in that, it’s revealed a lot about the work that we kinda needed to do, maybe personally for ourselves, but then also within the higher ed realm. I can say that I’m on my 118th day of meditation, so I have done a lot to bring a sense of calm and to get a little bit introspective at this time. Ed, I know you’ve done a number of things as well.

02:35 EV: Yeah, and I think you’re pointing out that not everything about the pandemic has been bad. We’ve adapted and learned new things that will be part of our lives going forward. For me, a little bit of a fun experience, I live here in Washington, DC, in a garden-style apartment community, and didn’t really know my neighbors prior to the pandemic. Well, early on in March, one of my neighbors started playing a song outside every day at 6:45. It was an opportunity for everyone to come out, shake off the rest of the day, and get to know one another. We are now approaching day 200 of that, and it has been a really incredibly great tradition, I am so grateful for it, and I actually know my neighbors now, which is a huge innovation. So long story short, not everything about the pandemic has been bad, and some of the things we wanna talk to you today about are the innovations that higher ed is going through that they’re gonna wanna keep in place, responses to the pandemic that, maybe these are really good things we should have been doing all along, or maybe these were things that never occurred to us to do in the first place, but students have really responded to positively, and we can’t see ourselves not doing going forward.

03:40 MF: Absolutely, and let’s take it back a little bit to when campuses first closed in March. There was a lot of focus about making sure folks were ready, the transition to remote or the virtual environment, a lot of quick shifts that campus leaders had to make, and there’s probably, as many of us know, there’s been a number of different shifts that we personally have made, but then also higher ed leaders have made as well. Could you talk a little bit about what you’ve heard, Ed, over the last, what, six, seven months now at this point, and call out a couple of the trends or indicators that you’re seeing out there?

04:14 EV: Yeah, there’s a real moment in time that the spring semester caused, a before and after moment for higher ed. Now, a lot of the big changes that happened this spring, of course, were that all the courses moved online. There’s been pedagogical innovation left and right as instructors who never really had online courses or hybrid courses suddenly had to learn. We’re not gonna really cover that today because that is such a huge and worthy topic, it’s deserving of its own set of research and its own content development right there. We can’t possibly scratch the surface on how amazingly cool some of those ideas have been and how transformative it might be for higher ed going forward and how it actually deploys its own content. Instead, what I wanna talk today about is how those innovations have advanced student support.

05:00 EV: Now, thinking back to the spring, what was it like? Well, we suddenly all went home and all went onto Zoom, so we were in a situation where every student became an online student, and every college became an online college in a way. What that forced us to do and revealed was just how unprepared many of us were for doing that. The good news is that schools have done so much over the course of those six months to fill those gaps to make it so that students can access services virtually online, over the phone, through a Zoom call, whatever it might be. Many of these things really, really worked out well. We just never thought to do them before. And they’re gonna be permanent structures that we have going forward. They’ll be part of what we do to support students, and ultimately, I think that’s gonna make a big step forward in making us much more student-centered in how we approach students. There’s been a lot said about becoming a student-centered college or a student-centered university. In a lot of ways, the pandemic is forcing us to do that, maybe really for the first time in serious regards. We’re not talking about it any longer, we’re actually doing it.

06:08 MF: Ed, would you talk a little bit about what does that mean to be student-centered? What was student-centered before and what is student-centered now?

06:16 EV: Yeah, this is a great debate because historically speaking, universities are often built around faculty. It’s about how we teach programs and how we teach courses, and there’s sort of an assumption that students come to us and learn and learn and be molded by that structure. These are great structures, but oftentimes, they’re not structures that are centered around what the student’s trying to get out of college. So there’s a great debate about what a student-centered university really means, and again, we don’t really have time to cover that all today, but from my world and your world where we talk a lot about student success, being a student-centered university is akin to providing better customer service if you’re willing to go that far and call students customers. We don’t necessarily have to in this regard, but it’s that concept. Are we making it unnecessarily hard for them to engage with something that we want them to engage with? And, if so, why? Doesn’t make any sense.

07:15 EV: Well, higher ed has a tradition of just simply letting things go and go and go if they’re legacy processes or something that was put in place a while ago without full examination, not necessarily because anybody is negligent, but simply because there’s other things to focus on. And I think a lot of these students-centered problems do originate from the fact that there were some legacy processes put in place 30 years ago that is a hoop that a student has to jump through, and no one’s ever really thought, “Why is that hoop there? How do we make it go away?” So cleaning up a lot of that is in fact what the spring and summer had been about. And we’ve got some stories that we wanna tell.

07:52 MF: Absolutely, and I think this is also a good place to talk about and mention that the social justice movement and everything that happened with BLM as well was a great impetus for this as well, because voices who were historically silent or weren’t speaking up in the same way that they had are now speaking up in terms of the needs and the supports that they want or desire, and campus leaders are now fielding those requests and are listening with a different ear.

08:21 EV: It’s been fascinating on the calls that you and I have done together with folks who are doing this exact work, what a tight intersection, how much of a Venn diagram of overlap there is between folks that are working on making their campuses less systemically racist and the folks that are working on making their campuses more accessible for the purposes of the pandemic. And these two things seem to intersect on so many of our calls, so we’re gonna try to talk about these things today in terms of both lenses, the push to get students re-enrolled and registered and also the push to be more equitable in our approach in removing those systemically racist things that we’re suddenly uncovering and talking about maybe fully for the first time. So, Meacie, this is all a work that we’re doing together in preparation for CONNECTED, which is our big student success conference that we do each year. This year, it’s gonna be in December on the Internet, as I like to joke.

09:19 MF: You like to say that.

09:22 EV: But I mean, everything is virtual now, so if you are a Navigate member and you wanna attend that conference, please do check it out on our website. We’ll be talking in depth about a lot of these issues much, much more so than we can do today, but we kinda wanted to provide you with a little bit of a preview of some of the things that we would be talking about in the hopes of whetting your appetite. And also, if you happen to have a really cool idea that is associated with anything we’re talking about today, please do reach out and we would love to chat with you about it.

09:51 MF: Research plug. Nice.

09:54 EV: Yeah, so let’s dive right into that. Maybe we can start off a little bit by just talking about some of the big themes that we’ve heard that’s kind of touched both of our work. I think there’s probably three of them that we should talk about and we should riff on here. One is talking about a lot of the administrative barriers that were removed. You mentioned last spring that one of the big questions was simply engaging with students who were gone [chuckle] and we hadn’t had a chance to engage with in-person because there’s no more in-person. Well, that started revealing all sorts of challenges that students were going to have to navigate to simply get enrolled in the fall. That’s thing one. Thing two was in my mind, I saw campuses understood how dependent they were for a physical student walking through a physical door with a physical piece of paper on a campus. No one had really thought too much about that, at least in a lot of places, certainly some schools, but repeatedly folks mentioned being surprised that, “Gosh, we didn’t really realize that you couldn’t actually complete this process without coming to see us.”

11:07 EV: Maybe some schools even thought that was a good thing, but what happens when that’s no longer possible? How do you set those up a way for a student to get things taken care of when they’re not there? And the last thing I’ll say is there’s a theme here around proactive advising and holistic support, which is a topic that we should probably cover in an entirely different podcast in the future. But the idea of presenting opportunities for students to simply get all of their questions solved at once with somebody who understands all of their challenges, and we’ll talk a little bit about that with regards to equity in just a moment, I’m hoping, because that is so much about building trust with the student as well, which is such a key component in building relationships. So those are the three things that I would say have been themes, early themes from our research, you and I have done together that have emerged. You wanna add anything to that? Which of those three seems the most interesting to you or maybe the most relevant to your work?

12:02 MF: Honestly, I would probably say it’s about… You were talking specifically to advisors, but I would say it’s about expanding access to support. I would talk specifically about that, because in terms of those scholar programs or those niche programs for Black minority males or minority initiatives, a lot of times that’s the type of support you see. And there’s that… The fact that we’re having conversations about the expansion of those types of support structures means that there’s a deeper understanding of some of the systemic belonging-ness, confidence building, support and networks that we need to build for these students.

12:42 EV: Yeah, absolutely. A big theme from the work that you’ve discussed with me is building connections. We’ve known for a long time, going back decades, for student success research, that engagement with the campus is a huge deal in keeping and retaining a student. And we also know through the equity work that that’s a harder thing to do if you feel minoritized in some way and it is not a campus that is particularly welcoming to you. You’re going to have your guard up a lot of times. When you do find someone you can connect with, it can be a transformative experience, and you and I have heard countless numbers of stories from people who have had that experience, either with students or when they themselves were a student and stayed in school because they met someone who encouraged them and mentored them and kept them engaged in the campus.

13:29 MF: Absolutely, it’s that concept of each one, teach one, and I can even just speak from my experience from my undergraduate experience is that it was a dance troupe, an African dance troupe, that I was a part of, that actually got me into the TRIO McNair program, that got me into going on to pursue a graduate degree. So you see how transformative a lot of that work can be and how beneficial it is for, as folks are getting those opportunities, to reach back and provide that support as well. And I’ll say a little bit about, just quickly, about in terms of lived experiences or folks who are understanding of those backgrounds, there is always that mindset to make sure that there is that support for all those that come behind you, and I think we’re starting to see that lived out and talked about in a lot of the conversations that we’ve had.

14:20 EV: So let’s talk more about this here, because this is a really important moment, and we’re talking about lessons from the pandemic, but one of the lessons is that need for holistic support. You need to have human beings on your campus, or in this case, in your virtual campus, who students can reach out to and have that connection with and feel like they can get their myriad of interconnected problems addressed. A bad experience for a student, or a customer for that matter, is having to bounce around to many different offices to have all those questions answered, and not have that holistic support. Something that I heard a lot on our calls was how this environment, this Zoom environment, gives us a window into people’s lives that we’ve never had before. You and I have joked how… You obviously can’t tell on the podcast, but I’ve got a background here that is full of fossils, many of which I collected during grad school. Meacie has periodically, once a week, shifted her workstation inside her environment so that she’s constantly got a different background. In fact, she’s…

15:23 MF: Gotta keep it fresh.

15:25 EV: You literally have a difference perspective every week on work. But think about that from a student standpoint. We’re now seeing windows into their lives, and faculty realizing that students are approaching them with challenges that they are not capable of dealing with, either ’cause they haven’t been trained on such, or they just know that they’re uncomfortable dealing with that and they don’t know what to do with the student, has made them much more empathetic to the idea that we actually do very much need some coaches or support people on campus that can provide that for students. So one of the changes has been an elevation, if you will, of this concept of having a coach or an advisor or whatever you might name it for a student to connect with, perhaps assigned to a student, to solve their challenges. And could you speak a little bit more about how important connections like that are for equitable outcomes as well, especially for students who are students of color or from a lower-income background or first-gen background?

16:21 MF: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m sure many on the line are familiar. A lot of this goes into where we talk about conversations about high impact practices. So we know that the more that there is an ability for a student to be mentored by a faculty member, that reaps benefits in terms of what they look like in terms of their scholastic activity, in terms of whether they go on to do research. We also know that if they’re connected with co-curricular activities or if they have an internship, if they’re provided a network through that faculty member to go out into the workspace and get that experience, that’s extremely beneficial, and confidence boosting as well. And then the other thing I would add as well, is that any time that they can get hands-on work, it’s been tenfold in terms of what they share, not only with their own peer group, but also within their own families. One of the things that we always talk about, in terms of talking about equity, is that it’s not only that you’re benefiting the student, but a lot of times you’re benefiting the parent and the families as well. So we see a lot of that in those conversations, and we’ve heard a lot of that over the summer as we were doing our research.

17:36 EV: That’s such an interesting point, and I hope one that we’ll be able to do another podcast on the future, which is to go really deep on virtual advising, all of the benefits, all the things that have… That stand out as opposed to the traditional in-person 9:00-5:00 meeting. The ability to advise a family is certainly one of them. You’re sitting there with your parents talking to an advisor about your financial circumstances, well, gosh, isn’t that a much more efficient structure then making the student play the telephone game? “Hey, I just heard this from an advisor and we have to do these things,” and the parent doesn’t really necessarily understand what’s being asked of them. And that’s just one example of the many different advantages that the virtual advising environment provides, so much so that I do think that it’s worthy of its… It’s kind of its own half an hour that we do on that in the future.

18:25 EV: So let’s switch gears a little bit on this, though, because as schools became more virtual in their ability to support students, they also were discovering, well there’s different tiers of need that we have here. Some students really do need to have multiple in-depth conversations about some really complex issues associated with what they’re doing in school, what their career aspirations might be, whatever it might be. Others have a 30-second question that does not need a 30-minute appointment to solve.

18:54 EV: And so in the course of moving virtual, we also saw, kind of our second observation, which was that there were these front doors that schools were building for themselves such that students could… Or lobbies, if you will, such that students could go to a simple spot and get whatever question they have answered. It struck me a couple of years ago, someone mentioned to me, “Hey, Ed, we have a challenge here in that a student doesn’t always know where to go for an answer.” There’s no phone number for the university, so to speak, and instead, they bounce around places back and forth trying to get their questions answered. Well, that doesn’t work if you’re not on campus. So let’s talk a little bit about some of the structures that we saw that got set up to deal with that kind of first line of problems, first line of questions. And I don’t know if you heard any really interesting stories from our calls that you’d like to relay right now, but I’ve got a couple I collected that I’d like to go over.

19:54 MF: Yeah, please do.

19:55 EV: Alright. So, let’s just start talking about some of the basic problems that students do wanna get solved, and I got a quick list here that I made. And again, this isn’t a universal set of issues, this is just sort of giving everybody a sense of what we’re talking about here. Students often asking basic advisement questions. “How do I register for classes? Should I take this class, this class? When is my registration window? How do I do that? How do I get into that system?” A lot of questions about financials and financial aid. Students don’t really understand the difference between the Financial Aid Office and Student Accounts. It’s all just the money people to them and so navigating the relationship between those two offices can be a challenge. A lot of registrar questions, as you might imagine. Paperwork to get reinstated, that’s a thing that you haven’t been able to do, or maybe you just have some sort of thing that you need to get checked off before you’re allowed to come back to school or to get registered classes. A lot of questions about housing. A lot of questions about academic petitions. Again, trying to get reinstated for courses, and of course, the main one is, “How are we gonna be open in this fall? What are we gonna do about COVID?” A lot of questions like that.

20:58 MF: And what we found in our conversations is that the populations who are more likely to have a number of these questions ended up being your typical equity population, so whether it was Black, Latinx, rural students, first-gen students, low-income students. Ed, would you expound upon a little bit about the creative solutions or what campuses were putting in place?

21:21 EV: Yeah. I don’t know that these are rocket science. They’re just more needed to exist, and the notable factors that schools are saying to us, “We’re not gonna take them down. We’re gonna keep doing that stuff because we see the value.” But it wasn’t that complicated. They really did create phone numbers for the university or the college and they might have a bank of student workers fielding phone calls and then routing… Dealing with basic questions themselves and then routing more complex questions to specialists or to the actual support offices. You can accomplish the same thing with the central inbox, we heard a lot about those. And then I actually even heard a couple of stories about creative uses of Zoom to create lobby-like situations where a student could log in and then have someone come and collect them, answer their questions in this virtual environment.

22:09 EV: What’s notable about this is that some of these are pretty basic questions that are gonna get asked again and again and again. So you could actually use lower cost, lower amount of time solutions to address them. Something like a student call center or something like a quick email reply. And I think it’s notable that people really like this, the students attach to it. They use these services. I heard some stories about them overusing these services at times, so much so the school has… to either rethink what they were doing a little bit. But the presence of having just a welcoming spot where someone can go and get problems solved seems like something we should keep doing going forward.

22:49 MF: Yeah. Yeah. And I was gonna add that everything that Ed just listed out is a multifaceted approach to communication because what they knew, and as he mentioned, is that there were some students that they just couldn’t get in contact with because they didn’t have their correct information. There are other ones where we’ve heard how inventive they were in sending out postcards to make sure that they could get them connected. If once they did get connected with them, it was whether it was Zoom lobbies, if they had that capability. We know a lot of Latinx students are dependent on their smartphones, I think upwards of 25%. So I think that one of the bigger things here is that it’s not one way to do it, it’s multiple ways to do it and to reach the student. And I think this circles back wonderfully to what Ed said earlier about this is the student-centric piece, right?

23:38 EV: Wow. What a really important point that is. Offering multiple different options for engaging with support, or I should say, multiple different modalities. Because what we’re not seeing anywhere at any point here is that this is the death of in-person interactions. Not at all, these are supplements, too. It’s just in the past, in-person was the default, and in some cases, the expectation. Now, we understand that we’ll have a lot better success if we offer multiple different avenues for students to come and engage with us. And surely, there will be some equity boost that we get out of that as well because we will no longer be excluding students that can’t engage or are reluctant to engage with the one option we give them. Now, you have multiple options. Hopefully, one of these will work for what you need for yourself with your problem. So, I think it’s a really interesting development here, and I think also, relates to yourself as a human being, that’s sort of something that we preferenced, just having optionality in these regards. So quickly to summarize, and then maybe we can move on to our third point that we should make here, so what have we talked about thus far?

24:48 EV: We’ve talked about the move towards more holistic-style support insisted by the complex and interconnected problems of the pandemic and encouraged by the need of students in our equity-based environments for that kind of care. We also saw that a lot of those issues could be handled with lighter weight, less expensive question-answering mechanisms that might actually themselves make the school more accessible to support. Things like a central phone number or an email, like a Zoom lobby. The third big thing here that I think we’ve heard during our calls, and I’d love to hear some of your thoughts this stuff was… We’re talking a lot about solving problems and challenges. What if the problems and challenges didn’t exist at all and how many of these things that we put in front of students that they have to navigate this complex maze are necessary? And how many of them are not? How many of them are legacy processes that someone put into place a long time ago, that we never really reconsidered until now? And it took a pandemic to make us rethink, maybe that’s not something we wanna do with the students.

25:56 EV: Maybe you can also talk to me a little bit about the importance of that work from an equity lens as well. Thinking about all the barriers it takes to get from a student from either a high school to the first day of classes, or say, from their first year of college to the second year of college, it’s a lot.

26:13 MF: Definitely. So a lot of times when our students come up on our campuses, and if we’re talking specifically about students of color, we realize that they already have this kind of mindset, a feeling that they don’t belong, and at that point are pretty much kind of going through an idea of confirmation bias. So anytime we put something up that makes it hard for them to get through, even as simple as it may seem, for those who have kind of gone through college and know the processes in and out, it just recreates within themselves this idea that they should not be here, or maybe they shouldn’t return. So it just reinforces a mindset that we don’t want to reinforce among our student groups, especially when we’re talking about Black, Latinx. And so when we think about something coming up as an administration barrier or registration hold and other things of the like, we have to be very mindful of what that means and how damaging that could be to our students, especially to student populations we want to keep and encourage them to graduate on.

27:18 EV: Yeah, it’s so interesting because there’s sort of an old school mentality in higher ed that making students jump through all those hoops somehow builds character, or is an educational experience of some sort, teaches them to be adults, when in reality, that’s gonna be true for some students, and in other students, it’s just gonna be, “Yeah, maybe this is just more evidence I didn’t belong here in the first place, so I’m out. I’m not gonna jump through all those hoops because why should I do that?” And so that’s kind of a critically important, I think, maybe overlooked angle for schools that are really trying to address their systemic racism. So let’s talk about what some of those things might be, ’cause I think it’s gonna be more apparent to our audience if we make it concrete and real. I’ve got a list here. Surprisingly, here’s another list.

28:09 MF: Here we go.

28:09 EV: Yeah, so maybe we can talk about these in chunks. The first thing I wanna talk about are tests, either the SAT or the ACT for incoming students, or placement tests for incoming students that might not be college ready. It became very difficult this spring and summer to take said test. They had to be proctored. If you hadn’t done those things already, the chances that you’d be able to get that done were a lot lower, maybe impossible depending on where you’re located and what your circumstances are. So we heard on our calls, there were plenty of schools that were simply just waiving their SAT and ACT requirements. Now, that was a thing that was already kind of in the ether, if you will, for the last couple of years because schools were just moving away from testing, but it was interesting to see how many of them jumped much more into that, and might even consider making that a permanent change going forward. It just required the pandemic to give them the nudge.

29:02 EV: Similarly, placement tests have been much maligned over the years as a not terribly effective instrument for truly assessing a student’s college readiness in math and writing. And you and I heard many stories of schools that had replaced what they would normally use a placement test for with a home-grown instrument, say a writing sample for placing you into college writing, or simply just looking at the students’ high school grades and using those to place them into courses. We know that these are, especially with the placement tests, important equity plays ’cause of prior work that we’ve done on this looking at developmental education and equity. So, Meacie, maybe you could talk a little bit about how this reform around placement tests actually can help a school advance their equity agendas, close their gaps.

29:50 MF: Yeah, well, I’m sure many folks who are listening today realize that that disproportionately impacts our minoritized populations. So when it comes to actually the placement within these Dev Ed, Dev Math, Dev English, disproportionately, we’re seeing Blacks, Latinx in those classes. As you can imagine with this lift that we experience over high school in the spring, that was gonna worsen for many of these students and would have added time to a degree, which we know then compounds and results in their inability for many to actually reach graduation day. So the fact that they rolled back a lot of these testing requirements is a huge step up, and, honestly, we’ve seen folks on the far end who actually went to as far as to say, “We will provide you with… You can self-report your high school GPA. We believe in you.” And I think there’s something to be said where you know that they’ve made it to your door and the onus that you put on yourself as an institution to help catapult them through, and then also the belief that you give in themselves to them within themselves to do the work, that they can do the work.

31:02 EV: Yeah, it’s interesting how we heard some schools that had already made the move away from testing and we’re beginning to see equity impacts because they had placed fewer students into no credit developmental ed courses. They instead placed them into, say, a co-curricular pathway or something with supplemental instruction, and they were in fact seeing the results. This had been something they’d done prior to the pandemic, and it gave them the confidence to move forward and make it the, really way that they did it, the whole way that they did it going forward. And I actually expect we’ll see more schools doing this. This is gonna be something that we might actually be dealing with for a couple of years now. If you think about the fact that students in high school right now might have some amount of learning loss compared to their brethren from past years simply because they weren’t really in school, and in a lot of cases might not really be in school right now in the fall, so how is that gonna impact college readiness going forward?

31:56 EV: Let me turn maybe to the last thing I wanna talk about as far as a barrier or set of barriers, and we’ve already alluded to it. There were a lot of paperwork issues that students had to resolve physically to get done on campus, and I’ll just list off a few things here and talk about what schools did here, ’cause I think this stuff’s fascinating. A lot of this stuff is truly just modernizing the institution for the 21st century.

32:22 EV: So things like all the processes associated with financial aid. If they aren’t fully online, and the student can’t get all their answers online, that’s something that probably schools should take a look at, streamline that. We saw a lot of forcing of that happening over the course of the summer and spring because it just simply had to. Similarly, the registration process and all the holds that might come associated with that. In a lot of cases, people just flat out waived the holds, maybe even removed them forever. If it was a student account hold, we heard schools raising thresholds. Again, these are changes that schools have been making for a while to help make it easier for students to register. Now they became essential during the pandemic, and some schools won’t go back.

33:00 EV: Housing deposits became a barrier this summer because we wanted students to register for housing that they weren’t sure they were gonna use. Schools waived the housing deposits to encourage students to actually move forward with the process of coming to campus. And I think we already mentioned this a couple of times already, but I was surprised to hear how often, it was still a very manual process to do course re-instatements. So if a student got dropped for non-payment, you had to actually go to each of your instructors, get a form signed that approved you re-entering your classes. Schools that still had this, and it seems like such a legacy process, but schools that still had this in place, eliminated the paperwork and centralized the process.

33:38 EV: So what do you take as an overall arc here? I see some themes, and a lot of themes here are, if it was paper, we move it into online. If it was something you had to actually show up for an office to do, we’re gonna make it easy for you to just call us or interact with us electronically. And to me, I take that as very much more welcoming as a student to an institution, typically if I’m now engaging with you like I engage with pretty much every other service in my life, where there has been these components already. What are your takes, based on what we talked about today?

34:11 MF: Yeah, well, I would probably say that it’s about the personalization of the experience for the student. In many ways, we talked about making sure there’s equitable support and equitable communication, just making sure that we’re providing students exactly what they need as they need it. I think that’s right, but I also think we have to be very pointed in terms of how we support overall students, how we support our black students, how we support our Latinx students. I think there’s a lot of work to unpack there, but I’m excited because I see how universities are becoming much more student-centric and are really, truly putting students at the center of all the work that they’re doing. And the last thing I’ll add too is just the personal connections. One of the conversations that we had, or many of the conversations we had over the summer, were about the personal connections that they made with the students, whether they had them before, or they deepened throughout, and I think that’s gonna be very meaningful in the way that we continue to expound upon this work.

35:13 EV: Yeah, and I think that’s a great point to wrap it up on because won’t it be ironic if we look back at this whole experience, and it turns out that social isolation was the thing that got us more connected?

35:25 EV: And honestly, that’s a possible outcome here. So, long story short, while the pandemic is terrible, we all hate it, some good will come of it. There will be schools that have gotten stronger as a result of having to deal with these challenges, and a lot of this stuff was challenges that had to be fixed in the past that were simply never fixed. A lot of them are new challenges that we hadn’t fully considered, and a lot of it are things that we might have done a little bit of in the past, but because of our pandemic needs or our drive to be more inclusive and less systemically racist, we’re gonna fix as a result of all this. So in some ways, this is a terrifying time, and in other ways, this is an incredibly encouraging time, and a very optimistic time looking forward.

36:11 EV: So I hope everybody will take that as a message. Commitment from us to you, we’re gonna continue to work on these issues and deploy even better insights, we hope, across the course of the fall as we learn more about these things and catalogue more of the lessons of the pandemic. So please do stay tuned for all that. Thanks for listening to us today. We had a great time interacting with each other and talking with you and sharing our ideas, and look forward to doing this again with you, Meacie, sometime soon.

36:38 MF: Yeah, we’re all in this together. Thank you.

36:47 MP: Thanks again for listening. Join us again next week when Ed is back. He’s joined by our friend Christina Hubbard to continue today’s conversation with a dive into the virtues of virtual advising. Until then for Office Hours with EAB, I’m Matt Pellish.

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