Higher education institutions are now paralyzed as the COVID-19 pandemic forced widespread lockdowns and campus closures. This situation has highlighted certain challenges and areas of improvement that colleges and universities need to work on, and one of the most apparent challenges involve providing accessible student services.
Education institutions had very little time to prepare for the pandemic when it started in Wuhan, China. Travel restrictions were imposed as cases rose at an alarming rate, which left thousands of international students stuck in their home countries. Now more than ever, colleges and universities need to invest in their student support services not only during but also after the COVID-19 virus.
A Way to Keep Students Connected
Part of the challenge that institutions are facing is how to maintain a sense of community even though students are physically apart. Studies show that a sense of community is strongly related to the amount of interaction students have with faculty and peers. In fact, engagement with faculty directly benefits their academic performance.
Though face-to-face interaction has been proven to be the most beneficial, other campus resources, including web portals, also contribute to this sense of community. Higher education institutions can utilize technology to maintain their connection with students. Not only does this boost student retention, but it also helps with improving an institution’s reputation.
Providing Essential Support Services
One in three college students suffers from some sort of mental health problem, and the number of students who see their counseling center is up by 40 percent. These counselors provide a valuable service to students, especially those who cannot afford therapy.
These students no longer have easy access to mental health services and the added tension from the pandemic can heighten their anxiety.
Further, there is a new crisis of what to do with now-displaced students. Institutions need to be sensitive about the impact of closed campuses and to create student support teams to provide assistance or advice where they can.
Being one of the first to be affected, Australian universities responded by creating financial assistance packages to help students access food and technology. However, there are still hundreds of both domestic and international students who are left scrambling to find housing.
How Social Media Can Help
Maximizing the use of online platforms is essential to education institutions. Social media and other teleconferencing services are some ways universities can provide student support despite travel bans. Having a staff who is available seven days a week can greatly help in addressing the students’ concerns and questions.
“This crisis has led to a tremendous amount of anxiety about traveling and living in foreign countries, and I think that’s gonna translate to many more questions about support services. The most obvious is health, but also mental health, advising, career placement,” mused Brad Farnsworth of the American Council on Education in a webinar on the impact of COVID-19. “These are all things that are factors now but I think they’re something that’s going to be more important. And that’s something we can use as we develop our marketing message.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly impacted the higher education community, and how institutions respond to this crisis will shape their positions in the future. While it may be difficult for some institutions to improve their current student services, partnering with external companies that provide country offices and online services is a step in the right direction.