How to build a resilient system so students can get to and through college

The path to college, prior to the onset of COVID-19, was already a long, hard trek for many first-generation college goers. Add in a global pandemic that upended schooling and lives, and the goal of a college degree feels even further away for many. In Reimagining the Road to Graduation: The Need for Extraordinary Systems to Get Students to and Through College, the Bellwether team offers 34 recommendations to build a better system that will help more young people get to and through college — all in light of the stresses and pressure points that COVID-19 has added to the challenge.

Three overarching imperatives, taken together, can address the current crisis and build toward a more resilient system in the long term:

    • Meet the basic needs of students experiencing disruption: Adults must meet students’ basic financial, physical, and social-emotional needs, all of which are fundamental precursors to engaging in learning. This is a foundational step in supporting students’ postsecondary aims. 
    • Build awareness of the student experience and systems fragmentation so adults understand the needs of young people and the impact of COVID-19: Education leaders, program providers, and policymakers need a deeper understanding of the magnitude of the impact of COVID-19 on student experience — and awareness that some ripple effects may take years to come to the surface.
    • Reimagine and implement supports that can be delivered with coherence and coordination: Support for students must be implemented with renewed purpose and, in some cases, entirely reimagined in response to COVID-19.  

The recommendations most likely to make an impact for students in the short term, include:

  1. Provide and distribute emergency financial assistance to college students
  2. Prioritize access to physical space (e.g., unused gyms, cafeterias, classrooms, office space) for students who need a quiet place to study and/or access the internet
  3. Ensure all students, especially those learning virtually, have access to devices and internet connections that facilitate their ability to learn remotely
  4. Foster peer support models, social activities, and affinity groups for students to build friendships, mentor each other, and provide social-emotional support
  5. Provide expanded mental health services and proactively reach out to students so the onus is not only on them to initiate a conversation about their overall well-being
  6. Develop communication plans to reach out to students who paused their schooling due to COVID-19 and design program supports to get them back into school (e.g., texting reminders, counseling on financial aid forms, etc.)
  7. Adapt college and career advising models to center on the student experience (e.g., including meeting basic needs, social-emotional supports, and family engagement) and integrate more than just college/career planning and navigation
  8. Train teachers, professors, counselors, and other providers to implement new approaches that center on student relationships and leverage remote technologies
  9. Extend test-optional admission policies
  10. Revise and standardize policies (e.g., application cycle deadlines, tuition deadlines, courseload requirements, etc.) to provide additional grace periods for cohorts impacted by COVID-19
  11. Streamline FAFSA, including standardizing the “award appeal” process

Read all of the recommendations here and visit www.bellwethereducation.org/roadtograduation to learn more.