How pandemic disruptions have followed students to college and what educators are doing to help

More than two years after the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the second half of their high school experience, some first-year college students are feeling academically underprepared and reluctant to reach out for additional support, The New York Times reports. Undergraduate enrollment has fallen precipitously since the beginning of the pandemic, although the rate of decline has slowed. Graduation rates have also declined, and the number of students who attended college but left without a degree has increased.

Low-income students and students of color felt the effects of the pandemic the hardest, says Stanley Litow, visiting professor of public policy at Duke University and former deputy chancellor of the New York City public schools. Community colleges in particular have seen steep declines in the enrollment of Black and Latinx students. “The population that we’re most interested in doing the most for seems to be moving in the wrong direction,” Litow tells the Times.

Related: What’s really putting a damper on college enrollment? Survey takes a closer look. >

Providing support for students

To meet students where they are, some institutions are offering additional support, especially in math, with professors amending syllabi and adjusting expectations to close knowledge gaps, the Times reports. “That gap will propagate through the generation of the cohort,” said Paulo  Lima-Filho, the executive director of Texas A&M University’s math learning center. “Colleges are going to have to make an extra effort to bridge that gap.”

Experts emphasize the importance of supporting students holistically, addressing their financial, mental health, and career needs, and instilling a sense of belonging that would ensure students feel they can flourish academically and fully re-engage in all aspects of college life.

Related: Surge in students seeking accommodations for mental health disorders >

Like many U.S. colleges and universities, Benedict College, a historically Black college in Columbia, South Carolina, has experienced declining enrollment and graduation rates. Benedict President Roslyn Clark Artis notes students are struggling socially as well. “We have had students—for the first time in my 10 years as a college president—say to me, ‘Do we have to attend the parties?’” she said. “There’s almost anxiety associated with coming back into a social setting.”

To meet the needs of the many low-income, first-generation college students struggling to adjust to college life, Artis says educators must remain undaunted in the face of current challenges. “We are committed to populations for whom disenfranchisement is common,” she said. “We’ve always accepted that sort of burden.”

New York Times
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