Recommendations Coming From Virtual Town Hall: Supports Students may Need to Stay in College this Fall

In March, as the national response to COVID-19 spread across every sector, colleges found themselves in the middle of an academic term trying to make the transition to remote learning and support with little time for implementing ideal strategies or systems. While the immediate need was significant, many colleges did their best to triage a matrix of concerns and needs from both students and staff. The extent to which socio-economic status and racial and community disparities would impact the ability of students to access courses and supports to help them stay enrolled quickly became evident. What may have seemed like an emergency exercise for several weeks has now become a reality for the future, and colleges are reflecting on how they can improve upon and sustain a high quality remote learning environment that doesn't further exacerbate equity gaps.

In April, ATD hosted a Virtual Town Hall where more than 700 community college leaders registered to hear from ATD leaders on practical ways they can help support student success in this environment. During that event, areas such as leadership and strategy, data, communication, student supports, teaching and learning, and organizational development were addressed through direct Q&A and the development of a comprehensive resource guide.

Attendees expressed particular interest in ATD's focus on holistic student supports as a lever for supporting student retention and integrating academic and personal supports to helps students not only stay enrolled, but thrive during this time. ATD emphasized student-centered design and using a systems-thinking approach to not only create or offer services but to connect those services in a way that is proactive, seamless and supports the students’ academic success while addressing their personal needs. This is an intentional design approach that only works if seen as strategic and deeply integrated into how the college works.

In addition to the deeper capacity building answers, the ATD team provided some thoughts around good practices that every college should be able to implement with what they have. Quoting educators Dr. Luke Wood and Dr. Frank Harris, the team made recommendations for how to frame equity-minded student services:

  • Consider some challenges students might be facing in this environment:
    • The need to work and/or the loss of income
    • Lack of access to campus resources and info
    • Lack of digital and technical access
    • Struggles with basic needs
    • Homeschooling children
    • Taking care of small children or dependents
  • ​Be Intrusive, be responsive, be race conscious, be informed:
    • ​Do not work off anecdotes or assumptions
    • Talk to students and collect data from outreach
    • Survey, but be short and intentional about what is going on now
    • Be community -focused (create opportunities for community to build sense of belonging, offer virtual spaces for students with families and space for student groups that provide support and build community)
    • Be clear and validating
    • Be flexible and compassionate
  • ​Offer supports at “off” times. What if a student needs tutoring or has a question at 8 p.m., after children are off to bed?
  • Balance the synchronous with the asynchronous. Requiring students to engage “live” or in person with us may not be possible due to time constraints or broadband capabilities. (i.e. have someone available to help students apply for public benefits but also have a “how to” video available for students who may be accessing after hours.
  • Turn around student inquiries quickly.
  • Set clear policies and processes.
  • Be flexible with assignments (i.e. ways to submit) and deadlines.


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