Relationships are now more important than ever. During a time of widespread social distancing, institutions must not let social isolation become the norm.

College is a pathway to opportunity. Those who graduate college earn an additional $2.8M of lifetime income and consequently have significantly heightened social mobility. Despite this, low-income students have dismal odds of earning a degree - only 11% of low-income Americans earn a Bachelor’s degree by the age of 24.

College already does not work for those who need it most and COVID-19 is only making it harder. As institutions across the nation move their operations and opportunity online, many low-income students are now facing additional barriers to their degrees. 

What if a student does not have access to broadband internet at home?

What if a student needed their part-time job - now furloughed - to help pay tuition?

What if a student was just beginning to overcome their imposter syndrome - the idea that a low-income student belongs in college - only to lose access to their Living Learning Community?

These are all realities of a post-COVID-19 college experience and they will test the resilience of students and administrative leaders alike. We know a lot will be asked of university leaders in the months to come. 

My hope is that amid the COVID-19 chaos, university leaders will not lose sight of their missions of scholarship and social mobility. Yes, courses must be moved online. And yes, faculty must be trained and supported in their adjustment to a new modality of instruction. These critical layers of infrastructure must be prioritized as higher education leaders rise to the challenge.

But universities must not forget the greatest pillars of their experience: relationships and community. It is now more important than ever that socially distanced students have a relevant and engaged support network. 

As universities begin to plan for the possibility of a fully-online spring and fall 2020, we challenge universities to prioritize online-ready student support. 

Do not wait for students to call the advising office or tutoring center. 

Do not leave students to find their own online communities on the likes of TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram. 

Do not hope that students feel comfortable enough to text their RA or TA.

Take action to connect students directly. Envision a location-agnostic support network where every student is empowered to form the relationships they need to build resilience, self-efficacy, and sense of belonging in a chaotic time. 

Do not let social distancing be a barrier to relationships.

For 6 years, Mentor Collective has supported tens of thousands of online peer mentoring relationships, ensuring that students at our partner institutions can engage with a trained mentor from their community. You can hear stories from these programs here, here, and here.

If nothing else, we hope that university leaders adopt a relationships-first approach to their COVID-19 response. Many of us entered higher education because of its transformative power to impact social mobility. We build relationships, champion students, and encounter systemic barriers every single day. COVID-19 is just another hurdle on our collective path to educational excellence and equity.

Thank you for everything you do and please do not hesitate to reach out.

Jackson Boyar
Co-founder & CEO, Mentor Collective