Black woman with Afro in medical face mask and yellow overalls, sanitizing hands

4 Ways to Navigate College Services for Students of Color

Students of color have been disproportionally impacted by the effects of the pandemic. Here's how disadvantaged groups can utilize college campus services.

Since it began, COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on colleges and universities nationwide. Due to state-mandated closures, many schools had to close their physical campuses and resort to remote or online services to serve students. When the new academic year started, many colleges brought students back to campus, with some campuses mandating that students must be vaccinated to access on-campus services. But even with these policies, a lot of uncertainty remains. Some institutions have elected to continue offering online services, even with the increase of in-person instruction. Many students have acknowledged that online support services have enormous benefits and offer flexibility for students who work full- or part-time or who have to navigate multiple competing responsibilities. These services are also especially helpful for students of color, who have historically been at a disadvantage when it comes to accessible resources—though access and other challenges remain.

The impact of COVID-19 on students of color

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on college enrollment in recent years. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, undergraduate enrollment at US institutions has declined by 3.2%, and in the fall of 2020, community college enrollment fell by roughly 10% nationally. Community colleges have historically (and presently) served a larger proportion of students of color and low-income students, which provides evidence that many historically underrepresented students elected not to enroll in college.

Racial minorities are being hit disproportionately hard by COVID-19, experiencing unprecedented job and income loss, which has a huge impact on their probability of affording a college education and completing a degree. Community colleges and universities also witnessed a huge decline in their ethnic minority populations during fall 2020—Native American, Hispanic, and Black students accounted for the greatest enrollment drops, according to NSCRC.

The impact of racial injustice

Many students of color were not only impacted by COVID-19 but also by continued racial injustice at the national level. With the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, many students of color experienced compounded mental health and emotional issues, which had a huge impact on their sense of belonging and academic persistence in college. With many students of color being the first in their families to attend college, many lacked additional support services in their home environment that would’ve helped them combat the negative impact of COVID-19. As a result, many colleges worked extremely hard to provide their most vulnerable students access to tutoring and counseling services to provide this necessary student support.

Related: Q&A: Promoting College Success for Students of Color

The innovation of student support services

A lot of articles discussed the impact of COVID-19 on higher education by focusing on how faculty had to get innovative in response to challenges, such as resorting to online learning—but very few focused on the innovation of student services. Colleges like Western Illinois University instituted remote and phone advising and converted their degree audit reports to electronic format so advisors could show students their degree progress remotely. To respond to students’ mental health challenges, counselors instituted phone and Zoom appointments to connect with students from anywhere and provide them the mental health support they needed.

Tutor.com, a service provided by The Princeton Review, is a 100% virtual tutoring platform that provides 24/7 personalized support to students through online tutoring, and administrators and instructors can utilize their reporting tools to identify student knowledge gaps. Many schools utilized early alert advising software to identify students who were at risk of failing and developed academic and personal interventions to support these students.

For many institutions, this innovation was well received by students who were parents or those with demanding jobs, as it provided them the flexibility to connect with support services at any time without the added stress of finding time to go to campus. However, for many students of color, navigating remote or hybrid services during periods of uncertainty can still be challenging. Are you unsure of where to start or how to ask for help? Here are four important tips on how to successfully navigate student support services during COVID-19.

1. Connect with your institution’s IT department

To successfully navigate remote and hybrid services, students should connect with their college’s information technology department. Many colleges and universities provide free laptops on loan and other equipment to students who lack access to these resources. Students can check out these resources to complete homework and connect with online support services. You should investigate whether your institution provides free equipment to students and the requirements for checking out this equipment. Additionally, some IT departments provide students an orientation to learn how to connect with online platforms, join or set up a Zoom meeting, reset passwords, and ensure you have any information you need to succeed. Check to see if your institution provides this to stay up-to-date with online services offered at your school.

Related: Pandemic Problems: Resources to Share With Students

2. Research different remote and hybrid services available to you

As many students return to campus, some offices may provide in-person services or a combination of in-person and remote services. It’s important that you understand the modality each office is utilizing to serve students. At the beginning of the year, take note of class registration and financial aid deadlines. From there, schedule any advising and financial aid appointments before these deadlines to ensure you stay on track.

Some offices may also offer in-person or virtual drop-in advising where students can join a waiting room and meet with a staff member. Keep a list of all your college’s resources and their hours for in-person services as well as drop-in advising so you know what times and days you need to make time for them. You should consider going to drop-in tutoring regularly as well as advising and financial aid hours to you stay on top of deadlines and informed about important resources at your disposal.

3. Join online student meet-up groups

Navigating remote and hybrid services can be really confusing right now, and many students may feel isolated and lonely, as finding ways to connect with other students can be challenging. Consider joining or starting a Meetup group via Meetup.com or connect with your college’s student involvement office to see if they have any clubs or online-meet groups for students of color to connect. These groups can be particularly important for ensuring students have a safe space to connect and exchange information. It can also be useful in organizing online study groups.

4. Use a planner to keep track of appointments

Managing your time during a period of remote and hybrid services can be even more challenging since it requires more independent motivation than usual, so it’s important to utilize a planner to keep track of your appointments. Check with your school to see if they provide free academic planners, and check with the IT department to see what type of remote time management services are free to students. Be sure you schedule and track your class time, professor’s office hours, student service appointments, and extracurricular activities.

Related: Why Every College Student Should Keep a Planner

Navigating support services during a global pandemic is difficult for all students, but students of color have been affected significantly and disproportionally by the pandemic. With continued enrollment drops seen at many colleges and universities, it’s imperative these students have the resources to succeed but also the knowledge on how to successfully utilize them.

The pandemic just keeps changing. If you need advice to help stay on track and make life easier, check out our up-to-date COVID-19 student resources page.

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