10 colleges honored for virtual support during pandemic

Their efforts to improve services while keeping students engaged and healthy amid COVID-19 are lauded by NASPA committee.

A quick shift to online learning and the shuttering of campus offices and dorms profoundly impacted college students, both on an off campus. These institutions were among the best at ensuring they were taken care of.

Bay Path University, Northern Arizona University and the Borough of Manhattan Community College were among 10 colleges and universities recently honored for their virtual support to students during the COVID-19 pandemic by NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Those universities were selected to receive a combined $255,000 as part of the Virtual Innovation Awards: Excellence in Delivering Virtual Student Services. Bay Path, Northern Arizona and Manhattan CC earned top prizes of $50,000 each for the exemplary holistic approach during the coronavirus crisis.

All of them will be recognized and sharing their secrets to providing services during a Feb. 24 Summit on Virtual Support.

“Student support services are essential to students’ progress in college,” said Maura Devlin, Associate Vice President and Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Bay Path. “These supports include advising, orientation, emergency aid to help with textbook costs and other essentials, clubs and activities, academic and learning supports, and health and well-being programs.”

At Bay Path, a private not-for-profit university in Longmeadow, Mass., that offers bachelor’s degrees for women and graduate degrees for men and women, the award encompasses its work with traditional students and those enrolled in its online degree program, The American Women’s College.

Bay Path’s response during the pandemic included a virtual career services hub; a tele-counseling service; and access to 24/7 tutoring. It also offered programming on orientation, peer-to-peer engagement, community building and multicultural affairs. One key for Bay Path was that The American Women’s College already had offered levels of support for seven years. So all it needed was to put it “into overdrive.”

“Our focus is fully on the students we serve and how we can continue to meet them where they are, in even the most trying of times, to help them to achieve their educational goals,” said Anne Chapdelaine, Bay Path’s Dean of Students and Director of Persistence. “This award will allow us to continue to pilot new responsive tools and expand our resource availability, to make sure that we can flex and bend with the complex lives of our students.”

At Northern Arizona, the university created peer-to-peer support for its virtual students, launched a mobile app to increase engagement along with a wellbeing app and also offered online tutoring and self-paced career modules.

The Borough of Manhattan Community College started an online reservation system for students and their families to access meals as well as a huge initiative to get devices, including iPads and hotspots, into the hands of its neediest students. It also has provided emergency services and other wraparound support to guide them throughout the crisis.

Other colleges and universities that earned honors and a $15,000 gift include:

  • California State University Channel Islands, which expanded the use of a chatbot to all undergrads to improve student retention through support and encouragement, and also through a microcourse on learning online.
  • Georgia State University, which created a Financial Hardship and Emergency Assistance Program to serve its many Pell eligible students; took its Student Health Clinic and Counseling Center and made much of it virtual through telehealth; and increased advising to more than 100 staff.
  • Houston Community College (TX), which forged a Live Virtual Lobby for students via Zoom where they could get vetted for support they needed and attain one-on-one consultation with the student services team.
  • Montgomery County Community College (PA), which launched a web portal and app called “Montco Connect” in July to keep its students connected and alerted to happenings and supports across campus.
  • San Diego State University (CA), which launched CARES teams that performed outreach for its disadvantaged students and a @CORE program that served first-generation and underrepresented students.
  • University of Arizona, recognized for its Student Success and Retention Innovation (SSRI) that pivoted to 100% virtual and in turn, forged the highest first- and second-year retention rates in its history.
  • University of Florida, which was honored for the efforts of its Multicultural and Diversity Affairs’ early arrival programs (EAP) to offer assistance virtually.

The 100 institutions that were vetted by an advisory committee were judged on eight categories: connection building among students, peers and administration; their holistic approach to students; ingenuity; equity; scalability; technology use; collaboration; and the use of data in determining the viability and impact of their programs.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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