The pandemic has clearly upended the college experience for a generation of students and higher education professionals. The needs, concerns and aspirations of students are shifting. Now, more than ever, they are turning to their institutions’ support services for guidance. Institutional leaders are cautiously preparing for what lies ahead. But how do institutions prepare for so unknown a future? The answer lies in the path we were already on.

Colleges and universities face a host of financial, enrollment and programmatic unknowns. While some of these difficulties are indeed new, the reality is that many are existing challenges that have been magnified by the crisis.

That means institutions must fully address longstanding gaps in the student support experience — gaps that many in student affairs have already been working to close.

Even before the pandemic, widening access to student services, increasing enrollment and retention and developing a higher-quality online or hybrid learning experience were a pretty familiar slate of issues.

Likewise, student mental health and wellness had become a significant concern on college campuses long before the pandemic. A 2019 American Council on Education survey found that student mental health had become a higher priority over the previous three years for 80 percent of college presidents.

The coronavirus pandemic has compounded long-standing mental health struggles, exposing more students to the trauma of personal and familial illness, financial hardship, displacement and psychological harm.

Given the breadth and severity of the issues at play, institutions must double down on their mental health efforts. All staff — not just academic advisors, counselors and coaches — should have training in basic trauma-informed communication and in triaging potentially dangerous situations

Read the full article about the need to support college students by Kevin Kruger and Dave Jarra at The Hechinger Report.