Academic Support Services


As higher education institutions prepare for instruction to resume, it is crucial that institutions take steps to ensure they can support students and provide academic, financial aid and career advising services while following safety guidelines and protocols.

Many core components of support services will need to transition to a hybrid or virtual model. Schools should also explore using federal funding to support virtual learning. Below are actions for institutions to consider.


Hybrid or Virtual Support Services

1. Allow students to access academic and financial aid advising services via virtual appointments.

  • Virtual advising allows for the socially distant provision of services to all students, regardless of whether an institution has implemented face-to-face, hybrid or fully online courses for the fall 2020 semester. Virtual advising can take place through email, phone or videoconferencing.
  • Utilize an online appointment system and/or virtual drop-in hours to allow students to access academic and financial aid advisors in the same way they would on campus.
  • The National Academic Advising Association has additional trainings and resources for academic advisers as they transition to online platforms for their advising work.

2. Allow students to access tutoring and academic support services via virtual appointments.

  • With a transition to online courses, students may require increased academic support as they switch to the new learning format.
  • Institutions can mirror in-person tutoring services in a virtual format by providing both drop-in virtual tutoring hours and scheduled virtual appointments for students interested in 1:1 support.
  • Make use of campus technology to ensure that tutors can connect with students via audio, video and, if possible, through virtual whiteboards or similar technology.
  • For tutoring groups for large entry-level classes, consider using online message boards to allow collaboration among students and tutors.

3. ​Encourage use of free remote access to digital course texts for students via your institution’s library.

  • Access to online textbooks is critical for student success. In spring 2020 Cengage saw a 55 percent increase in the number of students signing up for online textbooks.
  • By using online textbook options or other open educational resources, institutions and systems can share the cost burden with students and lower or eliminate textbook costs. If not already in place, institutions should consider partnerships with publishing companies to provide access to online textbooks at a reduced price for students.
  • EDUCAUSE provides a comprehensive listing of open educational resources available online to faculty and students.

The eTexts program at Indiana University offers electronic textbooks to students at significantly reduced prices through partnerships with publishers.

OpenStax, a nonprofit run out of Rice University in Houston, provides free textbooks for students in a variety of topic areas including math, business, humanities and social sciences.

4. Consider flexibility around pass/fail grading options and extended timelines for academic probation.

  • Given the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on students’ lives, many institutions chose to extend timelines for academic probation or satisfactory academic progress appeals in spring 2020. This should be considered for fall 2020, too, as institutional and state responses to COVID-19 evolve.
  • If courses must be moved to an online-only format mid-semester, consider giving students the option to select either a letter grade or pass/fail grading for their course.

5. Allow students to access career services resources virtually.

  • As students continue to search for internships and employment opportunities, it is critical to move career services advising and events to a virtual format.
  • Allow students to schedule virtual career advising appointments using your institution’s videoconferencing technology.
  • Events that would typically be held in person, such as career panels or workshops, can move to an online format using videoconferencing. Q&A and breakout room features help keep these events interactive and allow students to engage with panelists and experts.
  • Use social media to connect with students and highlight on-demand online resources that your career services office offers, such as job boards, skills courses, or work style/personality assessments.
  • Career services advisors should frequently consult national resources, such as the National Association of Colleges and Employers, to identify best practices and examples of virtual career services at other institutions.

Federal Funding 

1. Consider using any additional federal funds given to institutions in the coming months to support students in a virtual learning environment.

  • Additional COVID-19 relief legislation is still being negotiated in Congress. However, both current proposals include provisions that could allow institutions to use the funds to support virtual learning.
  • The HEALS Act, if passed, would allow institutions to use funds to “provide financial aid grants to students (including students exclusively enrolled in distance education), which may be used for any component of the students’ cost of attendance or for emergency costs that arise due to the coronavirus.”
  • The HEROES Act, if passed, would allow for institutions to use funds for “grants to students for expenses directly related to coronavirus and the disruption of campus operations (which may include emergency financial aid to students for food, housing, technology, health care, and child care costs that shall not be required to be repaid by such students) or for the acquisition of technology and services directly related to the need for distance education and the training of faculty and staff to use such technology and services.”