How Schools’ Responses to the Coronavirus Can Help Inform Your College Search

Nathan Wilgeroth / Learn More About COVID-19's Effect on Higher Learning »

The novel coronavirus has upended the entire world’s expectations for 2020. Shelter-in-place orders are in effect, the Olympics are postponed, and a variety of plans for the spring and summer have ground to a halt. For future college students and their families, that means that campus visits and other interactive aspects of the college search might have had to be canceled. And in such difficult times, the only thing we can do is try to make lemonade with the sour, sour lemons we’ve been dealt. 

COVID-19 has revealed a lot of weak spots in higher education. Amid the uncertainty, colleges and universities across the country have had to work hard to navigate this crisis while responsible for millions of students, faculty, and staff. No school could have prepared for something like this, so they are making do with the resources that they already have on hand. It’s not surprising, therefore, that some institutions have handled the past couple of months with more grace than others. And while nothing about this spring has been ideal, you can actually find a way to use these responses to help you choose your future college

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Ask yourself: At a time when a school was most vulnerable, how did it continue to prioritize the well-being of its students?

Where Schools Fell Short

How colleges have responded to the coronavirus has depended especially on whatever existing policies and procedures were already in place. Unfortunately, many elite universities and other institutions of higher ed have operated with policies that are not sensitive to the varying levels of access among their students. In the last month, for example, there have been multiple reports of students who have been blindsided by sudden campus closures that required them to scramble for last-minute flights and accommodations. 

These shutdowns were disproportionately harmful to those who heavily relied on their college for consistent room, board, and resources like a computer and wifi. Leaving no margin of time for students to plan their departure, many schools unreasonably expected every student to afford an impromptu flight to a home with adequate tools for remote learning.

What’s the Right Way to Respond to COVID-19?

Because this is such an unprecedented time, no one can be sure of the “right” way to handle the nearly nation-wide transition to online, socially distant learning. Many schools, however, are providing support that can only be seen as beneficial. While we aren’t expecting another crisis to put us in the same kind of lockdown anytime soon, it’s worthwhile to note the schools that are excelling in support. 

Equity and access are among Colleges of Distinction’s top priorities, and this crisis has made apparent the lengths to which schools are continuing to prioritize the access of all their students. If you see great exercises in student support during the COVID-19 pandemic, then that can be a good indication of the high quality of support that will be available in more normal circumstances! As you continue to search for colleges while in quarantine, take a look at their source for coronavirus-related information. (Pro tip: Every profile on Colleges of Distinction now has a link to the school’s hub for coronavirus announcements. You can also find every CoD’s coronavirus links on this page here!)

What to Look For

Throughout schools’ updates during the coronavirus outbreak, it is important to see how they shared information with the community, how they handled campus and dorm closures, and how they eased the transition to fully online instruction for the remainder of the semester. The following examples are just a few noteworthy practices that represent a true commitment to safety, success, and overall well-being. 

Online Learning Strategies

Most colleges and universities decided to finish their spring semester by moving all of their classes online during the pandemic. The transition from in-person classes to digital, remote learning can come with a lot of confusion and technical troubleshooting, so Judson University made the simple yet incredibly impactful decision to have its Student Success Staff contact every single traditional undergraduate adjusting to the new format. The staff members know that not everyone who is struggling will reach out for help, so they have raised the bar with such a proactive outreach strategy. It’s just one way the University shows its concern for each student as an individual.

Speaking of proactive, the University of New Orleans also took extra steps to ensure that students and faculty were properly prepared for online classes. Before making the official switch to online classes, the University implemented a Readiness Drill,” which consisted of a full day of online classes during which the UNO community could test the software and solve any problems early on. This enabled a smooth and easy transition past the technical difficulties and onto the actual course material. 

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Other schools, like Saint Xavier University, keep their departments fully staffed to provide all of its regular IT, advising, and tutoring services online or over the phone.

Personal Care

College is not just a school. It’s a source of housing, food, and healthcare for a majority of traditional undergraduates. When colleges ease the transition off of campus, providing a cushion of accommodations where needed, they are showing a true concern for students across socioeconomic statuses.

Take the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, for instance. Sensitive to the fact that 39% of students nationwide face food insecurity, it continued to maintain operations of its campus food pantry for those who have been relying on the University for a steady source of their meals. To have a free food pantry at all is admirable, let alone during this difficult time.

Just as rampant as food insecurity, housing insecurity affects nearly half of all students. Throw in all the out-of-state students who have struggled to get home due to travel restrictions, and that’s a significant population who need help finding a place to sleep, study, and remain safe. Thankfully, a large number of colleges and universities have allowed students to apply for housing accommodations beyond the official campus closing date. Rocky Mountain College goes a step further to aid those who, even if they do have a place to stay off campus, lack the resources to learn remotely, such as a computer or a steady wifi connection. The College’s computer lab has remained open to those with a school ID so that they can access their online classes. It’s easy to forget that an internet connection is not a given, especially when public places like libraries and cafés are closed. RMC’s consciousness ensures that students can have a strong finish to their spring semester.

Mental health is just as important as physical health and food and housing security. The coronavirus pandemic has been a confusing, emotional event, and everyone deserves the time and space to work through such a difficult time. That’s why it’s critical for institutions to provide an exhaustive set of resources and counseling services. Seton Hall University, for example, has an entire page dedicated to the counselors who are available to talk as well as ideas for how to manage the anxiety related to COVID-19. Likewise, High Point University’sHPU Cares’ resource includes not only where to get counseling and mental health support, but also absolutely everything they need to stay afloat personally and academically.

Find a school that will put you first.

Every school is taking its own measures to respond to the novel coronavirus. Though these are tragic circumstances, you can look at how schools are supporting their students in order to get an idea of the lengths they will go to keep you safe and successful. Use these examples of our Colleges of Distinction to get an idea for the accommodations you should be looking for!