How Organizations Can Support College Students in their Return to Campus

Robyn Attebury Ellis August 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended higher education and is posing unique challenges for nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping first-generation college students succeed. Organizations continue to show courage and creativity as they adapt to meet new challenges and provide timely support for the students and families they serve. In June, the College Completion Colleagues (C3) Initiative partners – the Scheidel Foundation, the Crimsonbridge Foundation,  Capital Partners for Education, College Success Foundation DC, Generation Hope, New Futures, CollegeTracks, and Collegiate Directions – met virtually to brainstorm and share strategies to support college students’ return to campus during the pandemic.  

Here are five strategies organizations can implement to support college students as they return to campus:  

  1. Develop Emergency Aid Protocols – Develop a plan and protocols to distribute emergency aid to students, as needed and resources allow, to help them navigate unforeseen costs upon their return to campus. Data shows many students leave school due to an inability to meet a required expense of a few hundred dollars or less. Many community colleges and universities do not have systems in place to address these unexpected needs. By instituting emergency aid protocols, organizations can play a role in ensuring students stay enrolled rather than put their education on hold indefinitely.  
  1. Take Student Support Networks into Account – Design virtual programming and regular check ins for student advisors and mentors to inform them of how changes to the student’s support network may impact their college experience. The uncertainty surrounding the pandemic has placed an undue strain on student support networks – their families and friends. This has resulted in students feeling pressure to stop-out (withdraw temporarily from higher education), wait to enroll, or not complete the FAFSA. By raising awareness of these pressures, organizations can ensure advisors and mentors are equipped to best advise and support their students.  
  1. Identify Mental Health Resources – Connect students and their families to virtual mental health community resources and trained professionals that can support their mental health needs in the long-term.  C3 partners have observed an uptick in students experiencing stress, heightened anxiety, trauma, and other mental health related issues. Mental wellness remains a leading indicator of student academic success. By keeping a pulse on your students’ mental health throughout the year, you can set them up for both short- and long-term success.   
  1. Care for Staff – Invest in the wellbeing of your staff so that they can better serve students in their return to campus and throughout the year. Making and maintaining spaces for community care – spaces for your teams to reflect, rest, and recover – has helped C3 partners advance their mission in 2020.  Providing virtual support networks for team members, instituting regular check-ins between staff and supervisors, and encouraging new professional development opportunities that address the new reality we live and operate in strengthens teams and sets organizations up for long-term success.  
  1. Advocate to School Administrators – Maintain open and frequent communication with university administration offices in order to assist and advise students more effectively. Campuses are modifying institutional policies, campus environments, and access to instruction day by day. Students are having to navigate these changes without a playbook, but they do not have to do this alone. Organizations have an opportunity to leverage their access to university administration offices to obtain the information their students need and help them prepare accordingly for a smoother transition as they return to campus. Organizations can also communicate the needs of their student to school administration offices so that these are considered as swift decisions are made.    

An important part of the C3 Initiative is learning and working with organizations on college completion. You can learn more about how our C3 partners are preparing their students for a successful return to campus by clicking on the links above to visit their websites. Let us know how you are implementing these or other strategies for college success this fall by tagging us on twitter @CrimsonbridgeDC.