Dear CCA Alliance Members, Friends, and other Impatient Reformers –

For years, many of us have been sounding the alarm about vulnerable student populations and inequities in higher education. COVID-19 is exacerbating these glaring inequities, creating new—and often dire—challenges for students, and putting the momentum of our college completion movement at risk. Each day, the news is filled with updates on adjusted grading policies, virtual learning requirements, and cancellations of highly anticipated milestones such as university commencements and new student orientation. Although change is needed and inevitable, I am increasingly concerned that far too few of these policies give any consideration to today’s diverse student population.

I think about the students that relied on their institution for food security, housing, safety, and an internet connection. Or the single mother who lost her job and is now balancing schoolwork and childcare without an income. And I think about the students who escaped domestic violence but are now being forced back into situations that put their very safety at risk.

We must capitalize on this trying moment, using our collective power to advocate for policies that serve these students better and more intentionally than ever before. As a first step, CCA signed onto a letter from 50 leading organizations urging Congress to do what’s best for today’s students and the public health at large.

If there’s a silver lining in all of this, it’s the fact that these stories of personal challenges are steadily making their way into the national consciousness, and millions of Americans facing similar challenges can now empathize with the experiences of students across this nation. By now, it’s become clear that we may never truly return to a pre-COVID world. As higher education state and institutional leaders, we must prepare for the unique, long-term challenges created by this pandemic. Internally, CCA is prepared to support states and institutions as you:

  • Use this crisis as a catalyst to re-imagine a more equitable higher education landscape
  • Utilize disaggregated data to track student enrollment and student success
  • Recognize the interdependency between P-12 and postsecondary education, and the workforce
  • Take advantage of this downtime to further strategic planning towards college completion goals
  • Ensure new policies and programs are created through an equitable lens
  • Communicate changes with board members, faculty, university staff, and students in language that is appropriate for each audience
  • Shift to online learning considering students’ access to computers and internet
  • Allocate emergency aid funds to institutions and students in need

As CCA adapts to this new normal, we’re focused on being a dedicated partner to our Alliance members. Our team is conducting outreach to provide support in any way that we can, whether that means sharing best practices to help institutions pivot to quality digital learning, or offering guidance on how to best provide social, emotional and financial support directly to students who need it most. We’re also partnering with the National Student Clearinghouse to promote the latest data collection innovation, the Postsecondary Data Partnership, which will be critical in tracking the progress and enrollment of students across institutions. Especially in this pandemic collegiate environment, as many students consider transferring to new institutions or delaying their academic career, we know this data is critical in helping inform your strategic decisions in real time.

We are also trying to listen and learn from our Alliance peers. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be hosting a series of virtual townhall strategy sessions with higher ed policymakers, SHEEOs, system and institutional leaders, and equity advocates to align our advocacy efforts toward a bold approach to this crisis and the future of college completion.

Lastly, we recognize that COVID-19 has put professional gatherings on hold, but for now we still have every intention to host our Annual Convening from October 25-27, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. We have shifted the focus of this year’s convening to College Completion During Crisis to allow for meaningful learning and action-oriented discussions about COVID-19’s impact on higher education. In the event that COVID-19 continues to change our ability to travel and hold large gatherings, we are exploring and re-imagining ways to connect virtually and will share any changes as they develop. As always, our plan is to prioritize the well-being of our members and be cognizant of travel bans nationwide and at the state and institution level as they emerge daily.

Thank you for your continued efforts to advance completion, equity, and student success. We remain committed to our Alliance and the work of countless postsecondary institutions across this nation. I believe wholeheartedly that we will be better together—as a result of, in spite of and because of this unprecedented time. Stay safe and healthy, and—together—we can, and must, keep fighting for our students.