The coronavirus pandemic has presented incredible challenges to college students over the last academic year. With students and faculty now looking forward to fall and a return to campus, there are lessons learned from this past year that lend insights into the student experience. Not only did students have to adapt to online learning, but many face ongoing financial challenges, stress from isolation and uncertainty, and unreliable internet access. Our local higher education institutions have responded to these challenges with urgency and innovation to continue providing critical support to students throughout this challenging year.
During the 2019-20 school year, Hartnell College launched the first year of its new college completion program called Salinas Valley Promise (SVP). With support from the State, Monterey County, many local city governments, and a host of private philanthropists, the goal was to remove as many barriers as possible to help local students complete a program of study at Hartnell College. The central feature of SVP is two years of free tuition for any student who graduates from a local high school and enrolls full-time. But SVP provides much more than just a fee waiver – students receive a laptop, money to purchase books, and a wide range of support services to help them navigate the challenges of managing school, work, and life.
In its first year, 600 students (over half of the first-time, full-time freshman) participated in the program. Students attended a summer leadership academy to help them prepare for college, learn about resources and services on campus, develop relationships with faculty and staff, and get to know other students. Now in its second year, 95% of first-time, full-time freshmen at Hartnell are participating in SVP. This is great news because SVP students in 2019-20 persisted from fall to spring at higher rates (91% vs 59%) and completed more courses (4.3 vs 3.1) than non-participants.
When the pandemic began, SVP was able to leverage its advising structures and funding for student assistants to shift how it provided timely and critical support to students. Hartnell established a virtual front desk where students could connect with resources anytime they needed. Student assistants were trained to do technology triage and solve issues as students shifted to online learning. SVP students were enrolled in an online course to support their successful transition to college and connect them directly with a faculty mentor. These changes, based on anticipating student needs and responding to changing circumstances, have helped Hartnell College to adapt to the challenges of serving students during the pandemic.
I would definitely encourage future students to apply to the SVP program because of the amazing experiences you can obtain from joining. By being part of the SVP program I have made many different friendships with other students that are in the same position as I am and therefore are able to go through the experience with others instead of alone. Thanks to the SVP program I now have the courage to take a challenge because I know I have the support of others.Abril Alcala (2nd year SVP student)
Salinas Valley Promise stats 2019-2020
- Fall to Spring persistence: 91% of students continued their studies compared to 59% for non-SVP students
- Course completion: SVP students averaged 4.3 courses, compared to 3.1 courses for non-SVP
- Enrollment: Since starting SVP, enrollment from local high schools is up 3% overall
- Full-Time: Full-time enrollment has increased by 21%. Historically, we know that full-time students graduate and/or transfer at higher rates than students who attend part-time
- SVP Participation: In 2019-20: 55% of first-time students attending full-time (FTFT) participated in SVP. This increased in 2020-21 to 95%. We know that in 2019-2020, SVP students were much more likely to continue their studies compared to non-SVP students
With the onset of the pandemic, Monterey Peninsula College (MPC) worked quickly to shift its support for students online and meet the new needs created by distance learning and economic uncertainty. One of the first systems that MPC established was a Virtual Welcome Center where students could speak with a student services representative during extended hours and be connected directly to the specific resources that they need. MPC also used its online learning management system to deliver messages and promote access to a variety of student services, including basic needs, textbooks, laptops and internet access, wellness, and academic advising. Finally, MPC shifted all of its student services workshops online which enabled new collaborations and speakers to support students.
CSU Monterey Bay (CSUMB) is now more than halfway through the CSU system’s 10-year Graduation Initiative 2025, with the goal of dramatically increasing graduation rates for freshman and transfer students while eliminating disparities in outcomes between racial and economic groups. Activities designed to support these goals included redesigning general education requirements, major course requirements, setting out clear paths for students to graduate without taking extra classes, redesigning math courses to include additional support rather than remediation, and rethinking the first-year student experience.
During the last school year, CSUMB has adopted many of the same approaches to supporting students remotely: offering programs in pre-recorded and live formats, increasing the scope and frequency of communication to students through email, social media, and a new online student engagement system, and redoubling efforts to identify and meet students’ physical, social, and mental health needs during such a stressful time. CSUMB plans to continue many of these options when in-person instruction resumes in the fall semester because it gives students better access to support, more flexibility, and reduces disparities between students who live on or near campus and those who commute for classes.
CSUMB Results: CSUMB is ahead of interim goals for all graduation metrics and still improving. As of 2019-20, graduation rates were as follows:
- Freshman graduation within 4-years (37%)
- Freshman graduation within 6-years (60%)
- Transfer student graduation within 2-years (59%)
- Transfer student graduation within 4-years (81%).
Source: CSUMB Graduation Initiative 2025 Dashboard
As our local higher education campuses open this fall, we all look forward to safely returning to in-person instruction. With the lessons of the last 18 months and the new systems and approaches to supporting students that were established, we see schools that are better prepared to meet the needs of our diverse student bodies. Bright Futures is committed to continuing to work alongside partners throughout the county to ensure that every student can complete a high-quality post-secondary degree that leads to a promising career.