Good at communicating during Covid

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Overall, college students agree that their institutions have done a good job during the pandemic in communicating information about a range of issues, from courses and student aid, to emergency financial help, according to a new federal report.

In some categories, such as information on accessing food assistance and financial aid, public two-year colleges earned higher rates from their students than public four-year institutions.

The information comes from a National Center for Education Statistics report released on Thursday that provides the first national estimates of the impact of Covid in spring 2020 on postsecondary students. It looks at disruptions to student enrollment, housing and finances, as well as how institutions supported and informed students on these and other areas.

The report is based on preliminary results of the 2019–20 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, which will be released later this fall. It includes information for about 61,000 undergraduate students attending postsecondary institutions and in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

Tech help

Nearly 70% (69.8%) of public two-year college students and 69% of public four-year students said their institutions provided helpful communication on accessing their coursework. Two-year college students also said their colleges were helpful in communicating information about degree program progress (56.3%), financial aid (48.8%) and employment at the institution (37.2%), including federal work-study and assistantships.

Relaying information about financial aid was among the areas where substantially more public two-year students reported their institution was helpful than public four-year students reported (48.8% compared to 41.9%). Also, two-fifths of students attending public two-year (42.7%) and public four-year institutions (39.2%) agreed that their institution gave information needed to access food assistance. And 32.3% of two-year students said they received technology or technical services from their institutions, compared to 31.5% of public four-year students.

In addition, 37.4% of two-year students said they received information on physical/mental healthcare, and 41.7% said the college provided information on access to emergency financial aid from any source.

Regarding financial and personal impacts — such as lost jobs or income, difficulty in accessing food and safe, stable childcare — 39.6% of all undergraduates reported disruption or change, including 35.4% of public two-year students and 43% of public four-year students. For four-year colleges with primarily sub-baccalaureate degrees, it was 37.5%.

Among two-year college students, 10.3% said their college provided them with emergency financial assistance; more than one-quarter (26.4%) lost their job or income because of reduced hours; 8.7% had difficulty accessing food or paying for it; and more than one-in-five (21.6%) had a tough time finding childcare.

About 27.3% of all undergrads said their college provided a tuition refund due to Covid, including 26.3% students at public two-year colleges and 30.6% at public four-year colleges.

Data on demographics

The report also provides information based on gender, race, age, marital status and more.

  • Black students, Hispanic or Latino students, American Indian or Alaska Native students, and students of two or more races had difficulty accessing food or paying for food at higher rates (10% to 14%) than either White or Asian students (7%).
  • Students who identified as female had difficulty finding safe and stable child care at higher rates (24%) than students who identified as male (14%).
  • Students with Pell grants received emergency financial assistance from their institution at over twice the rate (22%) of students without Pell grants (9%).

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.