Students have so much talent, and this year they’ve added self-care and support to their long list of skills in order to succeed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Within a month of the first reported cases in Washington state, nearly all postsecondary education was virtual. Amazingly, most students successfully continued pursuing their academic goals despite the shifting landscape of COVID-19. Now, a year on, we are realizing the effects.
Students are experiencing added stress as they adapt, which is only multiplied for those who have fewer resources and greater responsibilities. As a result, greater numbers of underserved students held back from attending college this fall, while others are pressing pause on their progress toward a degree or certificate. Future enrollment indicators in Washington are also signaling that this worrying trend may continue.
Rising to a challenge is nothing new for these students though. Many are the first in their family to attend college, some are raising families of their own and a majority are working at least part-time to pay for school. Now they are getting resourceful, pioneering innovative approaches to learning, implementing valuable self-care practices and flat out persevering.
Their heroic efforts deserve recognition and can also serve as an example of how current and future students can succeed through challenge.
Supporting Student Success and Health During COVID-19
One of the goals of our scholarship program is to improve student achievement, and that means providing wholistic support. So, I decided to ask a few Community Foundation scholarship recipients about their struggle and success during COVID-19.
Our conversations provided some great tips on how students can do well and stay well during these difficult times. It also helped me compile the following list of financial and mental health supports that students are using to succeed during COVID-19.
1. Apply for multiple financial aid opportunities
Getting an education is expensive and may seem out of reach if you or your family members have recently lost work. However, state and federal aid is available; you just need to apply. In fact, Washington has one of the most generous financial aid programs in the country.
• Students should always start their financial aid search by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or completing the Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA). If you don’t qualify for the first, try the second. Either will open the door for students looking to apply for the Washington College Grant.
• The Washington College Grant covers the full tuition cost at any public college or university in Washington for a student whose family of four makes up to $50,000 a year. Some aid is even available on a sliding scale for students whose families make up to $97,000 a year, and can even be applied to some private colleges.
• Scholarships are also an increasingly important source of financial aid. The Community Foundation manages more than 60 scholarship funds, some of which give preference to non-traditional and underserved students. Last year, nearly 50 percent of our applicants received awards. For even more opportunities, you can explore statewide listings at Washboard.org.
• The Washington State Opportunity Scholarship is another option for students seeking their Bachelor’s degree or a career or technical certificate. This public-private partnership connects our state’s industries with top talent by reducing barriers to education. The current aid window closes on February 11, 2021, so act fast!
• Enrolled students who have suffered financial setbacks as a result of the pandemic can also appeal for a revised financial aid package. Swift Student provides templates and step-by-step instructions on how to approach your college financial aid office. The process is officially called professional judgement. Don’t let the technical jargon scare you though; most colleges understand the realities of COVID-19 and are more than willing to work with you.
Just starting your financial aid search? Make sure to read through our pointers on how to prioritize your efforts. If you’ve received a few financial aid award letters, the next step is figuring out how to decode the jargon. Then use tools like the College Financing Plan or the simple award letter comparison template to ensure you’re comparing apples to apples.
2. Seek out the emergency assistance you need
Every student needs assistance and support to succeed. Study groups, student clubs and academic advisors are all great examples. Lesser known are resources for students experiencing financial hardship, such as food pantries or emergency funds. These supports were designed to keep students on track to graduate, because a utility bill or spotty Internet connection should not keep you from earning a certificate or degree.
When the economy turned, more students found themselves in dire straits. A survey with 38,000 respondents found that two in three college students are experiencing job insecurity due to the pandemic. In response, campus administrators began building up these safety nets. In fact, the Community Foundation provided $160,000 in grants to assist with local efforts at WSU Vancouver, Clark College and Lower Columbia College. Each campus operates its own emergency fund, offering either one-time or ongoing assistance with food, rent, utilities, medical and childcare expenses. So, remember that you’re not alone; help is out there, and we all depend on support to get by.
3. Check in with yourself about mental health
In most years, students worry most about keeping their grades up or affording tuition and supplies. According to findings from Strada, stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness are the overriding concerns for college students this year. Mental health is a new concern for college-aged adults, but the ways in which students can cope have changed dramatically. Limited contact with friends, fewer in-person events and reduced access to student services make it difficult.
Just because everyone is struggling doesn’t mean you have to “power through.” Instead, check in with yourself every day. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or sad for a stretch, find time to practice self-care or contact your student health center to see what virtual services it offers. Like everything else these days, there are also a number of virtual tools and remote resources for mental health. Here are a few great options I recommend:
• Active Minds is one of the leading organizations devoted to mental health for college students. They offer free live webinars and discussions, recordings, toolkits, and more, offering opportunities to both learn and connect with others.
• Love is Louder is a project of The JED Foundation that offers simple tips and ideas to take care of your emotional health, cope with challenges, stay safe and look out for one another. You can also follow @loveislouder for more tips, tools and resources.
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a great resource whether you’re in crisis or not. Find helpful resources online or call the confidential, toll-free hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) if you are in a crisis. If texting is easier, text HOME to 741741.
For those who need help addressing toxic home environments, 211.org offers a directory of local programs and services that provide mental health evaluation, domestic violence resources and an array of wraparound supports. Whatever you need, most providers are now using telehealth and social distancing protocols to safely provide these critical supports.
Communication More Critical to Student Success During COVID-19
These are just a few resources that our scholarship recipients are relying on to succeed during the pandemic. I know there are many more, because I’ve also heard about students participating in college career center workshops or taking on volunteer projects and internships. Students, willingly or otherwise, are building and drawing on their creativity and resourcefulness to envision and prepare for an increasingly digital future.
Moreover, they are supporting one another by sharing their experiences, feelings, knowledge and solutions along the way. It can be as simple as calling a friend or sharing resources like the ones listed here. In every case, collaboration and communication are key to finding stability, so reach out if you’re feeling overwhelmed or left without a choice. I’m always here to talk as well.
Personally, I’ve heard from students who are adjusting plans and in need of deferring their scholarships awards. The Community Foundation for Southwest Washington and our donors understand. We’re here to support your educational goals, which means supporting you first.