Impacts of COVID-19 on First Generation Students Experienced Across Institutions of Higher Education

As institutions respond in haste to COVID-19, many are asking students to depart residence halls within hours and to begin online learning as alternative instruction, or are closing entirely. While a desire to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 is understandable, this leaves many first-generation students, particularly those with an intersectional low-income identity, with difficult decisions to make. Many of these students may not have permanent residences to return to, may face transportation issues or food insecurity, and are concerned about not having income from campus or local employment. As higher education professionals, a few important questions to ask colleagues is a good place to begin:

  • What campus or local housing opportunities are available to first-generation (and all) students who do not have safe or habitable conditions with which to return?
  • Will dining halls, food pantries or other aids for food and housing insecurity be available to students during this time?
  • What emergency aid funds are available to students to cover the cost of return travel, relocation, etc.?
  • Will students still have work study or campus employment positions available during this time?
  • Will campus computer labs be open for students who are able to remain local? Will laptop loaner programs be expanded in light of required online learning?
  • With the shift to online learning how are institutions considering students’ access and opportunity to connect to the internet?
    • Additionally, how will institutions provide instructional and troubleshooting support to promote online learning?
    • If students do not have access to classrooms or on-campus libraries, will textbooks and other hardcopy resources become available online?
  • How will mental and physical health services be provided to students? Are mechanisms in place for virtual appointments?
  • Are there opportunities to keep critical mentoring relationships active in a virtual space or modified setting?
  • How can alumni networks be engaged to help students find internships or employment opportunities when back in their home communities?
  • How is all of this information being communicated to first-generation students and their families?
    • Is the messaging being created in multiple languages to support widespread communication?
  • If students do become ill and are not able to visit the campus-based health clinic, where should they go to seek healthcare?
    • Will the visit be covered by their student health insurance?

The Centre for First Generation Student Success has compiled a series of articles and resources to supplement your institution’s efforts in supporting all students, with particular consideration for first-generation students.

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