Beginning in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic required immediate and wide-ranging adjustments to our instructional efforts and student services, with significant impacts on the student experience of college life. As the pandemic continued into fall 2020, colleagues in the Office of the Provost, Student Affairs, and the Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement (DDEEA) joined together to conduct a survey to better understand students’ experiences and their support needs. View this report for a comprehensive summary of the survey findings.
Not surprisingly, the results paint a complex portrait of the student experience during the fall 2020 semester. More than half of all respondents and over two-thirds of first-year students indicated that most or all of their classes were going well, and the majority of first-year students felt somewhat to extremely confident about their overall success. Students pointed to a familiar set of pedagogical best practices that make for a good course, regardless of mode of instruction: clear organization, frequent instructor communication, assignments aligned with learning outcomes and opportunities for peer interaction. Sixty percent of students felt that there were campus resources they could go to for help.
At the same time, the results reflected the toll of the pandemic. For example, students reported fewer opportunities to interact with peers overall and in their courses, which correlated with how they felt those courses were going. In response, the university worked over winter break and into spring semester to remind instructors of the fundamental importance of engagement and interaction. The Office of the Provost awarded small grants through a competitive process as incentives for the creation of new pathways to interaction and engagement, and gathered inspiring stories of best instructional practices to recognize, encourage and support instructor creativity. Students also shared their communication preferences, which has given instructors and student services more insight into how they can better engage their virtual classrooms and raise awareness of campus resources.
The survey also found ongoing student needs for mental health support, academic and advising support, financial assistance and food assistance, particularly among students from minority and disadvantaged groups and students affiliated with DDEEA programs. We are working, and will continue to work closely, with colleagues across campus to raise awareness of these needs, and to mobilize university resources in response. Recently, Dean of Students Christina Olstad shared a number of emergency support resources for students, including new federal funding for pandemic-related relief available through the Office of Student Financial Aid. Student Affairs will also be presenting the first Mental Health & Wellbeing Summit for students, March 11–12, 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged all of us and brought hardship to many members of our campus community. Students, faculty and staff continue to show remarkable resilience. We are committed to continuing to work fully to understand our students’ experience and how we can best support their success.
Cheryl Gittens, Interim Deputy Vice Chancellor for Diversity & Inclusion, Chief Diversity Officer
Lori Reesor, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs
John Zumbrunnen, Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning