• Franki Katz

Effective Transition Management for Higher Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Updated: Apr 27



“Everything I’ve grown familiar with has changed, quite literally, overnight,” says Jimin Kang, a student at Princeton University, in an article for Vox. International students like Kang are among the students hardest-hit by the coronavirus outbreak in the US. Meanwhile, universities across the continent have been forced to switch their classes and administration from in-person to online.


This shift isn’t unprecedented. About 20 colleges were forced by Hurricane Katrina to switch to online learning in 2005. Even then, however, “‘life happens’ issues” dramatically impacted student learning.


Although communications software has improved, life continues for students outside the classroom. Students struggle with finances, health, and online learning challenges. Meanwhile, higher education institutions face a potential 10% student attrition rate.



College and university leaders know that effective transition management is key to student success during the COVID-19 pandemic. A focused strategy to mitigate factors for at-risk students and a clear framework through which to develop student support packages is key to effective change management during this time.


Kai Analytics recognized that crucial student feedback can shape effective student support in the coming months.


We conducted survey research using the open-ended responses of 424 undergraduate students across the US to identify six distinct student personas. We hope that universities and colleges will use our insights to begin the road to a new normal.


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Not all students like learning online



As professors grapple with technological challenges, many students feel their learning has been impacted.


“The teachers are working very hard to do all they can. It just will never be as beneficial as being in class.”

— 4th-year student, 23 years old, Kentucky


Freshmen and sophomores are particularly impacted by the shift. Overall, 28% of students feel anxious about being able to meet learning goals. One student who we surveyed shared that the transition to online learning meant that they had to teach the material to themselves.


Many students that are dissatisfied seem to feel lost in this new environment. They feel that they are learning alone without support from professors, tutorials, or office hours.


Despite these concerns, however, we advise institutions to avoid changing too many courses to pass/fail. Students with too many pass/fail courses on their transcript may find that their studies do not meet state, federal, and professional accreditation requirements for their program.


Students dissatisfied with their educational facility requested the restoration of essential academic services like tutoring, academic counselling, improved e-learning resources and access to library services.


Get the full report


At-risk students are now more at risk than ever


While some students are primarily concerned about how this crisis will impact their education outcomes, many students who are considering dropping out have other concerns entirely.


Forced to leave their student accommodations to facilitate social distancing, about 17% of students are seeking emergency services. Many students are currently without housing while other students are at risk of food insecurity. Vulnerable and financially insecure students are faced with a widening economic divide.


Many students who supported themselves through school in the past have lost their jobs. These students have paid for several months of housing, meal plans, parking, and extracurricular activities that they may now never see. About 11% of students also lack access to the necessary hardware to attend class like laptops and tablets.


10% of the students considering dropping out doubted their ability to gain employment after graduation.


These concerns resulted in many students asking for help to access work, food, secure housing, and other kinds of financial support. Though the 14% of students requesting refunds didn’t generally request refunds for tuition, many expressed that they would like refunds for meal plans, housing, parking, and extracurriculars.


An evidence-based approach clears the way for an effective strategy



Higher Education institutions are at a crossroads. Amidst a pandemic and concerns of a global recession, institutions that are sensitive to enrollment shocks may struggle if the 10% of students who are considering dropping out actually do so.



This is an opportunity for higher education to take leadership in effective transition management. Decisive, impactful action to help students succeed during this time may be the best way to avoid attrition - but deciding on that action is easier said than done.


Evidence-based solutions allow institutions to act on demonstrable measures of support for new initiatives. Your students and faculty often already have many of the ideas that you need to move forward. Text analysis allows you to condense and clarify what they have to say in common themes that yield massive results.


While every educational institution is different, we’ve done the preliminary work for you. Our survey analysis of 424 undergraduate students across the US allowed us to identify six key personas.


Develop effective, targeted student support around student voices. Schools are pillars of learning, thought leadership, and community. Now, more than ever, students need their schools.


Want to learn more? Watch the webinar with Kai Analytics Founder and CEO, Kevin Chang to gain access to our full results and receive a complimentary copy of our full survey report.


Watch the Webinar Recording




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