Learning from the pandemic: 6 ways to keep students on track to graduate

Research from the National Student Clearinghouse reveals solutions to the common challenges universities have faced over the past two years.

Earning a college degree comes with its own challenges, and, as a recent study shows, students were not prepared to add a global pandemic to their course load.

The current national undergraduate student body is nearly 1.4 million students lower (9.4%) than it was before the onset of COVID-19, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released in May.

This decline in enrollment is one of the lingering effects COVID has imposed on universities across the country. Mental health became an issue for many students struggling to adapt to new instruction methods. Some were forced to prioritize caregiving responsibilities over their education.

The Institute for College Access and Success, MDRC and LEO reviewed seven evidence-based college completion programs in the U.S. They were able to identify the common challenges universities were faced with during the pandemic and offer some potential solutions to keep students on track to graduate moving forward.


  • It became more difficult to reach potential students. Most schools recruited students through in-person interactions, but the pandemic posed a threat to this strategy.
  • Lower-income students, first-generation students, Black students, Indigenous students and people of color were heavily impacted as the economy worsened.
  • Student engagement suffered as schools began to implement virtual instruction.
  • Many faculty members lost enthusiasm for their careers due to personal and professional challenges.
  • Staff required more support to help them adapt to new instruction policies to meet student demands.


While these challenges were no easy task for universities to manage, they also helped to produce solutions that may prove successful in the future:

  • Alter program requirements, such as part-time enrollment and extending the maximum credibility threshold.
  • Utilize virtual coaching while continuing with essential in-person interactions.
  • Normalize adversity, such as job loss and financial issues that may increase students’ stress by providing support and reducing feelings of guilt or stigma.
  • Improve crisis support services.
  • Improve retention by increasing staff salaries.
  • Be proactive in recruitment and retention efforts.

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Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttp://universitybusiness.com
Micah Ward is a University Business staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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