Key Takeaways from ACE's COVID-19 Survey

In March, the COVID-19 pandemic forced colleges and universities to shut down most in-person operations and transition to a remote-learning model. The fall semester continued remotely and as students enter the 11th month of pandemic (most still at home and unsure of the spring semester), colleges and universities across the nation are facing unprecedented circumstances. The American Council on Education (ACE) conducted a survey of 268 presidents of various colleges and universities to see how they handled the fall term in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ACE had previously surveyed colleges and universities earlier in the term. While concerns ranged from the decline in enrollment to the long-term impact of the pandemic on institutional finances, one of the most pressing issues was the increasing concern about the mental health of students. 

According to the ACE survey, nearly 70 percent of presidents identified student mental health as among their most pressing issues, compared to 53 percent in the last survey. The survey also showed some actions college and universities were taking to help combat the college mental health crisis remotely. Over 66 percent of all presidents are reporting an increase in the utilization of mental health services due to COVID-19 and presidents say they are implementing different strategies to support the mental health and well-being of their campus community. For example, 59 percent reported that their institutions have “invested in virtual or tele-therapy services.”

Key Takeaways from the ACE Survey

The ACE survey is part II of the Fall 2020 term conducted in November. This survey focused on the most pressing concerns college and university presidents are facing, how the pandemic has affected their fall enrollment and financial health, plans for the spring 2021 term, efforts to support student, faculty, and staff mental health, and strategies for internationalization.

  • The top two most pressing issues for presidents across all sectors were “mental health of students” and “mental health of faculty and staff.”
  • Presidents reported how their institution has worked to combat the student mental health crisis. Some “implemented new student engagement strategies to provide students with resources on mental health and well-being” (47 percent) and “expanded campus access to digital mental health programs and promotion platforms” (43 percent).
  • In responding to the financial impact of COVID-19, a majority of presidents reported that their institution had already implemented “hiring freezes” (60 percent) and freezes on employee compensation and salary increases (52 percent).
  • “Enrollment numbers for the spring” was the third most pressing issue among all presidents. More than half of presidents (56 percent) reported that they expect their spring 2021 enrollment to be similar to their fall 2020 enrollment. However, close to one-third (32 percent) of presidents reported expecting an enrollment decline from the fall 2020 term to the spring 2021 term.
  • The spring 2021 semester academic calendar is fairly varied. Forty percent of all presidents indicated that their institution plans to “eliminate spring break or other break periods.” This was followed by 39 percent of presidents, who indicated that their plan is to “maintain a normal spring term schedule,” and 32 percent who indicated that they plan to “start the spring term later than normal.”
  • More than half of presidents (51 percent) indicated that “recruiting international students” will be their institution’s top internationalization priority. This was followed by “partnerships with institutions/ organizations abroad” (41 percent) and “increasing education abroad for U.S. students” (29 percent).

With the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, many presidents of colleges and universities have had to come up with solutions for a variety of different scenarios. Keeping students, faculty, and staff safe is their top priority.

A mass notification solution can facilitate communications around mental health resources and more amid the ever-changing situation around COVID-19. Administrators should notify students if in-service counseling will be made available, or about which telehealth platform will be used for the current moment. An integrated campus safety app can further facilitate mental health outreach on campus. Students can use the app to access a directory of resources, including counseling center contact information and availability.

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Amelia Marceau
Amelia Marceau

Amelia is a marketing intern at Rave. She loves to write about anything safety related. When she’s away from the keyboard, you’ll either find her playing with her dog, ice skating, or competing in a triathlon. Amelia attends the University of Massachusetts Amherst, majoring in Political Science and Journalism.

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