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Although colleges typically have emergency response plans and a response team of professionals who would spring into action should the need arise, no one could have anticipated the extent of upheaval caused by COVID-19.

College responses to COVID-19 varied for several reasons, including but not limited to resources and expertise available to respond, the ability to quickly pivot to online learning, and commitment and agility to implement safety measures to reduce the spread of infection. The impact of COVID-19 on colleges will likely be felt for some time, as in-person learning returns, as some students wade through pandemic-induced setbacks, and as campuses implement and adjust protocols to keep students, employees, and their surrounding community safe.

As students and families research colleges, taking a close look at how colleges responded to COVID-19 could be quite helpful. So, what should you be looking for?


Communication is key during a campus emergency and when done well efforts can convey a clear and thoughtful plan of action, provide timely updates, offer comfort and compassion, highlight helpful and relevant campus resources, and offer the ability to respond to questions and concerns. In addition to sending emails and posting information on college websites, colleges also took to social media during the pandemic, including hosting virtual town halls and briefings. Was communication timely, ongoing, helpful, compassionate, and accessible to families?

Academic Support

Abruptly shifting to online learning at the onset of COVID-19 was challenging for both students and instructors. Although some students had prior experiences with online learning, most had not experienced it exclusively, nor did students have to navigate academic support services solely online, such as tutoring, writing support, academic advising, and instructors’ office hours.  Shifts from in-person to online academic support services broadened accessibility for many students juggling jobs and family responsibilities yet posed challenges for those with unreliable internet and those unaccustomed to accessing academic support services in an online environment. What academic support services might your student need and how were those delivered by colleges during the pandemic?

Financial Resources

This pandemic has also caused financial strain for many students and their families. Many college students encountered financial emergencies due to job loss, unexpected costs to relocate back home, news costs for a personal laptop, and increased costs to access reliable Wi-Fi. Although some families and students had money set aside in case of an emergency, many experienced diminishing financial reserves.  Many colleges have student emergency funds, and for some, this was a newly established resource due to the pandemic. What department on campus administers these funds, who is eligible, and what is the process to apply?

Social-Emotional Support

For many college students, COVID-19 brought about stress, fear, isolation, and uncertainty about their learning environment and campus safety conditions. We know that college students were not alone in feeling this way. The need for mental health resources skyrocketed across the nation, especially among college students. Approaches to meeting students’ social-emotional needs varied by college, but included efforts such as offering online support groups, increasing availability of one-on-one counseling appointments, coordinating referrals to mental health resources in the community, and acknowledging students’ social-emotional needs in college communications. What social-emotional supports will be available to your student and how can they access them if needed?

These considerations may have not been on your radar before, but perhaps they are now. In light of COVID-19, students and families may have slightly different needs and desires as they evaluate their college choices, and that’s okay.


Dr. Marla Franco serves as the Assistant Vice Provost for Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) Initiatives at the University of Arizona and is a member of the president’s senior leadership team. Her higher education career spans 20 years and two states, California and Arizona. She has championed access and equity in higher education for all students and has authored publications to further understanding of HSIs. She is a first-generation college graduate and earned her PhD in Higher Education Leadership at Azusa Pacific University.