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Identifying Challenges and Potential Solutions to Keep Students on Track to Enroll and Graduate During COVID-19

by NSC Blog | Jul 20, 2022 | Current Term Enrollment, Research Reports, Research Services

The pandemic has had a significant negative impact on both college enrollments and college completion. This is especially true in underserved communities and among low-income students and people of color. The undergraduate student body is now 9.4% or nearly 1.4 million students fewer than before the pandemic, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

In an attempt to understand these impacts, The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), MDRC, and LEO spent several months reviewing seven, evidence-based college completion programs around the country. They discovered common challenges and potential solutions that other schools should consider to keep students on track to graduate.


The past two plus years have created significant challenges for both colleges and students, particularly in underserved communities. These included:

  • Reaching potential students became more challenging. While many schools traditionally recruited students through face-to-face interactions, the pandemic limited these opportunities making recruitment more challenging.
  • The economic toll created by the pandemic had a greater impact on students from lower-income backgrounds, first-generation students, and Blacks, Indigenous and people of color.
  • Virtual delivery resulted in reduced student engagement. While virtual options made it possible for students to continue their coursework, not all students felt favorably about this new format which, for many, resulted in feelings of being disconnected and disengaged.
  • Staff were faced with their own personal and professional challenges impacting their ability and enthusiasm for their work.
  • Staff required more support during the pandemic to adapt to the new learning environment and meet student demands.

These challenges led to significant declines in both applications and students. Many were forced to drop out of their programs to deal with caregiving responsibilities or their own physical or mental health issues.

There are, though, some identified opportunities that may help schools address these challenges to minimize future impact.

Potential Solutions

Faced with several challenges during the pandemic, schools, administrators, and instructors were forced to adapt. During this time, they identified and implemented a wide range of potential solutions that may continue to hold promise in the future. These included:

  • Making adaptations to program requirements including allowing part-time enrollment and extending the maximum credit eligibility threshold.
  • Providing virtual coaching while identifying and continuing with critical in-person interactions.
  • Normalizing experiences related to job loss, financial issues, and other challenges to stress to students that they were not unique and to minimize potential feelings of guilt or stigma.
  • Enhancing crisis support services for students.
  • Increasing staff salaries.
  • Being more proactive in recruiting and retaining students.

Even though the pandemic has caused numerous challenges — it has also provided a forced learning environment driving schools, instructors, students, and staff to identify and adapt new ways of connecting and learning. These best practices and potential solutions may help to stem the decline in enrollment and graduation rates.

For help with your enrollment challenges, contact the Clearinghouse’s custom research team for obtaining research reports tailored to your specific needs.

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