In Uncertain Times, Ensuring Equity in Higher Ed Is Critical

As the events of the last month have made abundantly clear, COVID-19 is shaking up our entire way of life. Right now, even as the emergencies of the present consume our attention, we must not lose sight of the future.

A recent report shows the national gap in graduation rates between Black and white students at 25%; between Hispanic and white students it is 15%. The disruptions this pandemic is introducing are poised to exacerbate an already troubling college completion gap. Students from minority backgrounds are more likely to experience severe challenges to their persistence and eventual graduation.

If we are in fact entering a “new normal” of remote learning, what can educational leaders do to advance equity and help disadvantaged students flourish in a radically unstable moment?

Above all, this means going the extra mile to ensure our students have everything they need to maximize their chances of success in extreme circumstances. This is even more urgent for our students who live with social and economic stressors ranging from care for family and extended family to tenuous economic stability. During this uncertain time, basic fears for health and safety are now added to the list.

National Louis University is already invested in taking these important steps to ensure that all students have access to college success.

Some students may not have a suitable remote learning platform available at home. Moreover, they may be in a household with no steady income as a result of the economic impact of the virus. National Louis University has developed an emergency fund for current students who have been affected by the ever-changing economic situation. The goal is to assist students as much as possible across the whole range of needs, from technology acquisition, to tuition assistance, to food and income support – meeting these basic needs are vital to student success and are quickly eroded in a crisis of this magnitude.

If you would like to donate to the fund, please click here. Or, click this link to be directed to the application page (authentication required).

To date, about $60,000 have been raised through the Emergency Fund and is being awarded to current students who apply for the aid. The application process ensures that funds are delivered with an equity lens, upholding fairness while making sure students’ basic needs are met. Also, in order to provide further relief to students during this time, NLU has partnered with mRelief to help with food resources for students and their families.

Going forward, students will need personalized, empathetic attention more than ever. In short, ensuring equity is paramount. But how do we put the ideal into practice amidst a raging pandemic?

It is critical to be flexible enough to accommodate students’ unique technological and personalized learning needs. National Louis University has launched a Continue Learning support center for students that provides resources on how to adapt to successful online learning, counseling services, and learning support.

Students are also encouraged to utilize the new virtual Student Support Help Desk, a single point of contact to help students quickly find the specific help they need. The Help Desk is staffed during regular business hours. As a kind of virtual concierge service, this will allow students to have one place to go that will direct them to the specific person or department they need to speak with.

One of the most urgent tasks right now for any school is to continue nurturing a sense of belonging. Remote teaching methods are critical here. The feeling of being with others in the same space, even if only virtually, is essential to maintain that intangible but vital feeling of participating in a community of learning. For underserved students, especially, some level of synchronous learning is very important to maintain.

National Louis University students continue to meet virtually with their classmates and professors, as well as with advisors, student services, enrollment, coaches, and student finance representatives. This connection is essential for helping students maintain their relationship with NLU and for preserving the feeling of participation in a thriving community of learning. Radical hospitality on the part of NLU staff and faculty can drive belonging and continued togetherness, even though we are apart.

Ultimately, we are dealing with a shift to a new educational paradigm. Acting on equity at every level can help ensure we adapt to this challenge nimbly. Every student deserves an equal shot at success – and, above all, we don’t want to lose any students who might have gone on to invent a vaccine for the next global pandemic.