How to do right by your students in the face of COVID-19

In the higher education community, we are all driven by the missions of our institutions and our collective calling to serve students as they pursue personal growth and enlightenment. As 2020 continues to keep us all on our toes, it’s important for institutions to find new ways to do right by students despite new and evolving challenges.

To learn how various institutions are accomplishing this, we sat down with Flywire clients to hear how they are helping students through the COVID-19 global pandemic. Here are three tips gathered from their advice:

1. Flexibility is key

Brett Cassell, Bursar at the University of Colorado, highlights flexibility as a critical component of responding to this year’s challenges.

“The key word is flexibility and that’s what we really try to practice with our students and parents this semester. We really wanted to make sure that they had time to pay and if they couldn’t, we extended it out a little bit and we didn’t charge late or finance charges for the last two due dates in the spring.”

“We’re allowing students that had balances for spring or even the summer to register for the fall,” Cassell continues. “They can actually roll their balances into the payment plans for summer and fall if they need to do that as well to help them pay it off over the semester to give them a bit of extra time.”

The flexibility of agile payment plan options enables universities to help keep students enrolled in the face of this global crisis.

2. Focus on engagement

One thing 2020 has provided plenty of is uncertainty. In such a climate, it’s more important than ever to communicate with students constantly.

“Communicate often,” says Jennifer Campbell of Penn State University. “Don’t give miscommunication an opportunity to grow.”

Campbell recommends communicating relevant information broadly, but also being very specific and targeted on top of that.

“When we decided to go to remote learning, for example, our housing colleagues needed to vacate the dorms, but there was a decision to still provide housing to our international students. When they created their original communication, they did include language that addressed the needs of our international students, who didn’t necessarily have a home to go to. After that initial email went out, we then sent our more specific communication that emphasized to this audience the resources that were being made available to them because of their specific needs.”

But Penn State’s engagement is not a one way channel. Campbell listens to students, surveying them to find out where they are, how they’re doing, and what their needs are.

3. Prioritize services

With the world facing so many challenges, it may be tempting to cut services back to the bare minimum. But at times like this, students need more support, not less.

At the University of Colorado, Cassel spent time this summer working to make sure his team was available to answer questions from students.

“We can always help students by email and phone, but sometimes they like to talk to us face-to-face,” Cassell points out. “We’re working on ways to do video conferencing with them and meet them online. Maybe even have webinars if we need to. We’re working on that this summer and, hopefully, we’ll have the ability to do that in the fall, as needed.”

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