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As COVID-19 escalated into a global pandemic, colleges and universities made the difficult decision to shut down. This caused an abrupt shift to distance learning that proved disruptive to higher education. What at first seemed like a temporary, emergency precaution quickly gave way to a new normal, as students and professors were forced to finish the school year remotely. As we look toward the future, what lessons can higher education learn from looking back on an unprecedented year?
Looking Back at the Past Year of Higher Education
Here’s how a full year of living and learning during COVID-19 unfolded. Review this timeline as a way to get oriented with the changes and restructuring that took place in higher education.
January 29, 2020
First U.S. Covid-19 Cases
Five confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. — 6,000 reported globally and over 100 dead.
February 25, 2020
February 27, 2020
COVID-19 Scare Prompts First of Many Shutdowns
Bothell High School in Washington goes on lockdown for two days after an employee’s relative gets sick and is tested for COVID-19.
March 5, 2020
Schools Begin Shifting to Remote Learning
The shift to e-learning begins with the Northshore district in Washington announcing it will close and shift to online learning for 14 days.
March 11, 2020
March 17, 2020
President Trump Expands Telehealth Benefits
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services expands access to Medicare telehealth services so beneficiaries can receive a wider range of services without having to travel.
March 25, 2020
U.S. Public School Buildings Closed
Here’s a chart of what school closures looked like over approximately two weeks.
March 27, 2020
President Trump Signs CARES Act
President Trump signs the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act into law, providing $2 trillion to hospitals, small businesses, and state and local governments.
April 28, 2020
May 25, 2020
A National Reckoning with Race
After George Floyd — an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis — is killed by police, protests begin at community colleges, private institutions, and state universities across the country. Students also take to the streets, while faculty struggle to figure out how to discuss the protests with their communities.
Student Mental Health Deteriorates
According to the American College Health Association (ACHA), 60% of student respondents feel overwhelming anxiety, while 40% experienced depression so severe they had difficulty functioning. Case studies show students are growing depressed and disconnected from school. And while there is some improvement in the virtual experience this winter, students continue to say online learning is worse than going to school in person. TimelyMD’s national survey finds that 85% of college students say they are experiencing increased stress and/or anxiety as a result of COVID-19.
Back to School (Kind Of)
Seventy-four percent of the 100 largest school districts choose remote learning only as their back-to-school instructional pedagogy, affecting student success for over 9 million. Out of 3,000 institutions of higher education, 44% are primarily or fully online and 21% are using a hybrid learning model.
Enrollment Declines in Higher Education
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center finds that graduate enrollment is running 4% below the previous year’s level. Additionally, graduate enrollment decreased to 2.7%. This results in overall postsecondary enrollment being down 3%, in comparison to the same time in 2019.
November 7, 2020
December 8, 2020
A Declaration to Open Schools
President-elect Joe Biden vows to open schools in the first 100 days of his presidency.
December 11, 2020
Vaccines Inspire Hope
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issues the first emergency use authorization for a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 — the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine.
January 20, 2021
Student Mental Health Still a Concern, But There is Hope
One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, 82% of college students say they continue to experience increased stress and/or anxiety. There is good news, however. Nine out of 10 (91%) of students have found at least one coping mechanism that helps them feel better. As many colleges and universities plan for a “more normal fall,” nearly 80% of higher education presidents say they are confident that their institutions will be financially stable over the next 10 years
March 2, 2021
A Declaration on Vaccinations
President Joe Biden directs states to prioritize educators for the coronavirus vaccine, saying that he’s using “the full authority of the federal government” to get teachers and other school staff at least one dose by the end of March.
March 11, 2021
Discover why higher education should utilize telehealth
Looking Forward to Higher Education Post-COVID-19
It was an eventful 2019-20 academic year, to say the least. Higher education must apply the lessons learned for future generations of students to succeed. So, the question is: what did higher ed learn, and what practices should continue post-COVID-19?
1. Improve Technology Use
First, colleges and universities learned to make better use of technology to enhance teaching and learning, increase accessibility and promote college completion. To fully realize the promise of high-quality technology, higher education must address the digital divide, which is real and deep.
When higher education institutions transitioned to remote learning early in the coronavirus pandemic, many students did not have laptops, reliable access to the internet, or the technical tools to continue their studies. Daryl Lowe, associate vice president for student affairs at Spelman College said, “COVID-19 has been devastating in the Black and brown communities.” COVID-19 taught schools that without intervention, technology perpetuates the disparities in educational accessibility and quality.
2. Adjust to the Needs of the Workforce
A second lesson from COVID-19 is that higher education is vital in restoring economic vibrancy through reskilling and upskilling displaced workers and adapting to changing workforce needs. Moving forward, there is a need for more dynamic links between pedagogical practices and the emerging needs of America’s industries.
3. Find Ways to Work Smarter
The future of higher education is that colleges can operate smarter on several levels. Some work can be done off-campus with few if any negative consequences. There needs to be a plan for remote work for back-office functions to continue post-pandemic, with associated opportunities to reduce administrative space.
4. Identify Opportunities to Provide Virtual Services and Care
Healthcare providers rapidly accelerated the delivery of telehealth visits for routine patient needs, increasing efficiency for students and staff. Offering virtual care options to students made a particularly positive impact on student mental health, with many on-campus counseling centers struggling to provide care to students across state lines. With that in mind, JMI Equity made a $60 million investment in TimelyMD. “This investment allows [TimelyMD] to focus on providing care for students,” said Dr. Alan Dennington, chief medical officer and co-founder of TimelyMD. “We’re looking at how we can impact one student, help him or her stay in school, and that can change their life.”
5. Make Communication Clear
A final lesson of the pandemic is the vital importance of communication. Sharing information, listening to questions and insights, and adapting plans based on input and data have been essential for colleges and universities. As schools continue to navigate COVID-19, higher education leaders must remember to seek new strategies for giving and getting information to and from stakeholders, like students, faculty, and staff.
What Leaders in Higher Education Shared
To find more stories of lessons learned from this past year during COVID-19, TimelyMD asked student development professionals to share their experiences. Here’s what these faculty members and staff said.
“The versatility of online learning and connection has tremendous potential for enabling more people than ever before to meaningfully engage with higher learning. I hope higher education institutions will continue to think outside the box when it comes to the formats of their offerings.”
Jennifer Tharp, Ph.D.
Assistant Dean of Academic Services, The King’s College, New York City
“In the UC system, IT has really stepped up to make sure that each student has access to a laptop, webcam, headphones, hot spot, etc. — whatever tech is needed for them to perform well academically while studying off-campus. I hope these efforts continue post-COVID-19 to bridge the divide.”
Breidi Truscott Roberts, M.A.
Educator, University of California, Davis CA
“Not all higher education institutions had established student emergency funds. Such funds were essential to supporting students during the pandemic. Much of the CARES Act funds went to fund these student emergency accounts, but obviously, that funding source has or will run out soon. Institutions will need to prioritize continued fundraising efforts to replenish their student emergency funds and continue simplifying and humanizing the process for students…”
Marla Franco, Ph.D.
Assistant Vice Provost, Hispanic Serving Institution Initiatives, University of Arizona
At TimelyMD, COVID-19 deepened our understanding of the efficacy of telehealth for education systems and its important role in the well-being of college students across the U.S. The Coker Group conducted a telehealth survey evaluating how healthcare organizations are adopting, implementing, and utilizing telehealth solutions. Results confirm that telehealth will be essential for the short-term and long-term delivery of healthcare. In other words, telehealth is a reliable, long-term solution to providing both medical and mental health care for your students.
The health of your campus is directly related to the success of your students. When care is easy and accessible, students are empowered to take control of their medical health and mental well-being. Contact TimelyMD today to explore how a customized telehealth solution can help your campus thrive.