Irvine, Calif., May 12, 2020 – On college campuses across the country, faculty, staff and administrators are trying to find effective ways to help students successfully adjust to the abrupt changes in their education wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The University of California, Irvine conducted two surveys to gain insight into undergraduates’ concerns. The results provided the framework for the launch of a robust online support system that includes distance learning aids, mental health counseling, physical fitness classes and assistance with basic needs.
“We wanted to capture the moods, attitudes and anxieties our students are facing as traditional college life has been turned upside-down,” said Richard Arum, dean of UCI’s School of Education and principal investigator of the Next Generation Undergraduate Success Measurement Project. “What we learned is informing how the entire university serves undergraduates, as we work to maintain high-quality learning experiences and promote mental and physical well-being.”
The project team administered the first survey on March 11, after the switch to distance learning was announced, and the second on April 13, two weeks into the spring quarter. Participants were asked to measure their stress levels across different categories, assess their overall mental health and identify new responsibilities related to COVID-19. Students reported feeling the most stress over academic demands. Concern that the shift to online classes would disrupt their progress toward graduation and adversely affect their GPA was greater than worries about finances, housing or transportation.
In response, the Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation created a web-based Remote Student Success Guide containing best practices for developing the organizational and study skills necessary to succeed in a distance learning environment. For those who lack access to a computer or internet connection, UCI’s Office of Information Technology offers laptop and Wi-Fi loan programs.
Back home, students’ extracurricular pursuits no longer involve going to a study group, coffee date or club meeting but caring for siblings, running errands and doing household chores. Providing access to school-based activities beyond the virtual classroom helps undergraduates stay connected to campus and also supports their mental and physical health. Remote therapy and social worker sessions are available through the UCI Counseling Center. The Anteater Recreation Center offers a variety of online fitness options, ranging from meditation, gentle yoga and Pilates to boxing, karate and Zumba. Students who are unable to return home and may be experiencing food insecurity can obtain emergency aid from the campus’s FRESH Basic Needs Hub.
The surveys were administered to participants in the School of Education’s Next Generation Undergraduate Success Measurement Project, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to gain insight into the student experience and the value of a college education. On Sept. 25, 2019, researchers began a two-year longitudinal tracking study of more than 1,000 undergraduates, capturing experiences both inside and outside the classroom.
“One of this project’s great strengths is our ability to quickly pivot and study undergraduates based on ever-changing real-world circumstances,” Arum said. “While we never anticipated a pandemic of this scale affecting their education, we are nevertheless equipped and ready to track its effects and help our university and students meet the challenges.”
More than 750 undergraduates responded to the two surveys, which also included questions regarding their views of UCI leadership, government actions and the trustworthiness of various COVID-19 information sources. Detailed results can be found here.
About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 222 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.
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