There’s no denying that COVID-19 has had a detrimental effect on the world of higher education. From overcoming the challenges of transitioning to online instruction to grappling with the financial stress at both an individual student and an institutional level, the ripple effect has been felt by all.

But in the midst of all this hardship, higher education institutions have been rising up. Colleges and universities throughout the U.S. have found ways to adapt to these rapidly changing circumstances while also continually supporting their students.

Read on as we dig a bit deeper into the trenches, learning more about the potential long-term impact COVID-19 will have on the higher education industry and highlighting some inspirational ways schools are persevering through the unknown.

Higher education in the midst of a global pandemic

Upon shifting all courses to an online format, it’s no surprise that many of the hurdles schools had to overcome before really finding their groove had to do with the technological challenges they faced. Now that most institutions are over that initial hump, experts are beginning to analyze and predict what both the short- and long-term impacts of COVID-19 might look like in higher education.

The short-term effects are the things collegiate communities are feeling right now, such as the cancellation of in-person classes and events, the suspension of sports seasons and significant changes to the admissions process. But while a number of schools plan to reopen their campuses for the fall semester, some of the decisions school presidents have made in the last month may end up being permanent.

A survey from Inside Higher Ed revealed that half of surveyed presidents say they’ll never undo the investments they’ve made into new online learning tools. Many also said the same about mental health and emergency response resources. Some campuses even plan to permanently shift their admissions practices to a remote format.

While the true long-term impact COVID-19 will have on higher education is still unknown, it’s promising to see schools across the nation rise to the occasion as they take extra steps to provide faculty and students with the resources and support they need in this time of crisis.

Inspiring ways schools are stepping up

It’s true that many institutions are concerned about how the pandemic will impact their financial bottom lines. But despite that, the overarching response we’ve seen throughout the higher education industry has focused most centrally on the well-being of our collegiate communities.

Schools supporting students

As many colleges and universities closed on-campus housing and dining, a significant number of students very suddenly found themselves without a place to live. In some cases, students didn’t even have regular access to food. A handful of legislators have introduced bills to ensure students receive refunds for room and board expenses, and some states are considering bills that would pause the collection of payments on state-held student loans.

But it’s not just lawmakers who are working to ease some of the burden felt by the students. Consider the University of St. Thomas in Houston, for example. The school relaunched an initiative called CeltCare, an emergency relief fund that was originally created in response to Hurricane Harvey.

Through CeltCare, the school has sought to provide support to students who have felt the effects of lost wages and are worrying about their ability to continue their education due to COVID-19. In addition to helping affected students cover tuition payments, the fund has helped provide immediate support for students facing housing challenges or food insecurity. CeltCare has also helped provide laptops and internet access to students who would not otherwise be able to complete their coursework in the distance learning format.

The University of St. Thomas – which plans to open its campus for the fall semester – has also offered free fall semester tuition to 100 students who are looking to get an associate degree.

Bellevue University in Nebraska has instated a Tuition Assistance Bridge Program specifically to help students who lost their tuition assistance funding for reasons related to COVID-19. Funds are available to students who may have been laid off or furloughed, thus losing access to their employer’s education benefits. In other cases, students may lose funding because their companies have had to scale back on education benefits to put money toward operational initiatives in the wake of a rapidly shifting economic state.

The goal for this program – which is available to their current undergraduate and graduate students – is to ensure students wouldn’t have to make the difficult decision to drop out of their programs partway through due to these unforeseen circumstances.

Other schools have recognized the fact that many professionals have found themselves in a tough spot after being laid off or furloughed, and they may be looking to upskill as they seek out new opportunities. Rasmussen College, for example, has made all of its eRasmussen professional certificates free of charge for those whose professional education has been interrupted by the pandemic – or even for professionals who simply want to prepare for the evolving economy ahead.

The eRasmussen platform offers professional development training and education solutions – available 100% online – that are designed to help individuals advance their careers by leveraging curriculum from the various degree programs at Rasmussen College. And now they’re available for free to the general public through July 31, 2020.

Schools supporting the greater community

There are many additional instances of higher education institutions coming up with supportive and innovative ways to help their students. But perhaps more surprising are the ways school officials have gone the extra mile to help other schools adequately support students during these trying times.

We have witnessed new levels of collaboration, as faculty and administrators throughout the world have been exchanging ideas and best practices across their networks of educators. Some resources and advice may focus on the technical side of operating in a fully online format while others provide tools for more effective online instruction.

For example, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) is a fully online institution. So when stay-at-home orders went into place, not much changed for the school in terms of its daily operations. But Dr. Paul LeBlanc, SNHU president, felt a call-to-action to lend some extra support to schools that were experiencing the inevitable growing pains of transitioning from on-campus to online instruction.

As such, the school released a suite of helpful resources to help other schools manage and improve online instruction, covering topics like effective online teaching strategies, engaging online learners and supporting diverse online learners.

It’s also worth noting that support coming from the higher education sphere hasn’t solely been focused on education-related efforts. Some schools have found creative ways to use their now empty campuses for the greater good. Concordia University Texas, for example, opened its residence halls to first responders and other frontline healthcare workers to stay in when they’re not working.

Many frontline workers have traveled to virus hotspots to help ease the burden felt by the overworked professionals in those areas. In other cases, professionals may opt to avoid going home where they may potentially infect family members. In addition to a clean, safe place to stay, frontline workers also have access to the campus’ WiFi, enabling them to video chat with their loved ones as desired.

Looking ahead for higher ed

It’s been said that one should never waste a crisis. As colleges and universities remain agile, adaptable, innovative and student-centered, we can ensure that our education system is flexible and able to respond to the social and economic demands that crop up for years to come.

Many of today’s top executives will inevitably be defined by their responses to the challenges associated with the pandemic. But leading in a crisis is no easy feat – especially in one as unprecedented as this.

That’s why Collegis Education hosted a webinar with Dr. Daniel Diermeier, the incoming chancellor of Vanderbilt University, on this topic. Dr. Diermeier uncovers some of the key elements that define great leadership through challenging times, with an emphasis on higher education institutions.

You can access it on-demand here: Effective Institutional Leadership through the COVID-19 Crisis.”