April 21, 2020

Read Time

The majority of Americans are concerned, cautious, or worried about the COVID-19 pandemic, and students pursuing postsecondary education are feeling its disruptive effects.

With additional pressures on students who were already facing hurdles in ordinary times—especially adult learners, students of color, low-income, and first-generation students—what can educators and student-success professionals do to offer support and prevent students from stopping out? Experts from across Strada Education Network and our partners have been hard at work responding to these challenges. Here is a sampling of their advice:

Informed communication is essential

The challenges created by COVID-19 have introduced an additional layer of stress in all of our lives. For many students already navigating trying issues in normal times, the pandemic can create an emotional overload.

“When students feel disconnected, it undermines their success,” said Renae Roemmich of InsideTrack in a recent webinar, “Supporting Students in Times of Crisis.” But brain science can inform a response to students experiencing trauma. Listening and understanding, Roemmich said, rather than trying to immediately offer a solution to a problem, is more effective. A compassionate, informed response can help guide a student from survival and self-protection mode to a more relaxed, safe state where their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for thinking and learning, can reactivate and help them make decisions.

Brain science suggests that listening and understanding to a student first is more effective than immediately offering a solution to a problem.

Don’t say everything is going to be fine—especially when it might not be

For learners, telling their advisor that they’re planning to leave school can be one of the most difficult conversations of their lives. But it can also be tough for the advisor. In these situations, it can be all too tempting to dismiss hard emotions and offer a cliché response, such as, “Everything is going to be fine.” But the fact is, that might not be true for some students. Instead, said Lula Torres of InsideTrack in the “Supporting Students in Times of Crisis” webinar, it’s important to make students feel supported. When it comes to difficult conversations, she tells students, “We’re in this together and we’re going to create a supportive community around you.”

The CLEAR framework is another technique to guide students toward informed decision-making in these scenarios. Confirm that you’ve heard them, legitimize their valid concerns, evaluate the whole picture of what they’re dealing with, and then respond with advice.

Reach students where they are, and provide up-to-date career advice

With campuses across the country shuttered, the shift to online learning has happened nearly overnight. Becky Warren of the University of Arkansas Community College-Batesville has adapted to the new, virtual normal by taking her department’s career advising online. She meets with students via video chat and utilizes the kinds of project management software normally built for enterprises to create a digital career office where students can get direct feedback on their resumes and more. She’s also making sure students know her office is open and available through advertisements on social media.

“Rather than trying to let (students) reach out to us, we’re trying to put those advertisements out there in a way that finds them,” she commented during “Academic Advising and Student Support from a Distance,” a recent webinar hosted by Emsi.

As learning has changed during the crisis, so have the needs of the nation’s employers. According to Linda Head of Lone Star College, COVID-19 is “changing the world of work…and it’s changing every day.” This means that educators must be nimble in adjusting their program offerings to accommodate students graduating into a new economy. At Lone Star, Head has worked with faculty and administrators to quickly add mastery of online instruction to their K-12 education programs and SAP certification to their business administration degrees.

For more tips from education and employment experts, along with actionable data, a schedule of virtual events, and strategies for the future, visit Strada’s COVID-19 resource center.