Mirra Anson, Academic Support and Retention

On this page:

The Impact of the Pandemic

Why This Assistance Is Needed

Practical Options to Use to Help You Manage the Impact of the Pandemic

Who Is This For


The Impact of the Pandemic

Decades of literature around college student experiences and success illustrate that mental health related concerns can impact student academic outcomes such as persistence and degree attainment. Disparities becomes more pronounced when examining the experiences of students by race and ethnicity, income status, and/or first-generation student status. More specifically, college students who identity as a Black or African American, Native American, Latinx, Asian, Pacific-Islander, multi-racial experience disproportionate psychological distress compared to white students, a reality that is increasingly exacerbated in the context of persistent racial injustices, both on and off college campuses. It is within both the context of racial injustices and the more recent effects on student mental health as a result of COVID-19, that colleges and universities must prioritize student mental health, especially in classroom or academic spaces that are cornerstone to student experiences, goals, and ultimately degree attainment. To not prioritize student mental health, which has become an increased imperative in the context of COVID-19, could certainly be detrimental to individual students, and, as previous literature about the relationship between student mental health and academic performance tell us, be counter to decades of institutional attention and commitment to improving student learning, retention, and graduation rates. 

Why This Assistance Is Needed

The implications of COVID-19 are both immediate and long-lasting. While the pandemic has presented a myriad of challenges to institutions of higher education that spurred a rapid succession of responses to protect the health of the campus community, the pathway to healing and recovery will certainly be prolonged and require the collective work of faculty, students, and staff to support one another. Persistent disparities by virtually every marginalized identity in higher education were not only made more apparent, they will widen and have disproportionate effects on equity in the academic experience and outcomes. Therefore, this plan presents short-term resources that can be used to support student mental health in academic settings in this coming fall 2020 semester and long-term recommendations that require more time and resources, cross-campus collaboration, and overall consideration and thought necessary to address system-level change and equity in academic experiences. When examining what would be needed, both short-term and long-term to address COVID-19 impacts on mental health and related academic issues, some initial gaps and recommended practices come to the surface, as listed below. 

Early intervention and Assessment

A collaborative report published by the American Council on Education reiterated the importance of establishing a greater understanding through data collection and assessment of mental health concerns relative to each campus. More specifically:

“As a first step, campus leaders should establish or update their plans to assess mental health in their student populations. Ideally the plan will involve collecting survey data from a large, representative sample of students as soon as possible and then continuing on an ongoing, scheduled basis to understand immediate needs and changes over time”

To maximize the use of such assessments, it is critical to center the diverse needs of students and the voices of marginalized student populations in survey question creation, dissemination, collection, analysis, and reporting. Disaggregating the data by race and ethnicity to better understand how diverse groups of students may be disproportionately expressing stressors and mental health concerns is critical to explore and inform ways of creating more supportive, inclusive environments, both in and out of the classroom. Of particular importance to academic issues, is the value in leveraging these assessments to explore the relationship between student reported mental health concerns and academic related behaviors and outcomes. This evidence then needs to be included in administrative-level discussions on how the institution can, and must, promote both student mental health AND student academic success, with equity and inclusion at the core.

In other words, we need to do more to understand and communicate the unique impacts that COVID-19 mental health related concerns will have on student academic experiences, performance, and degree attainment. Leveraging data and assessment is the start.

Learning Mindsets

There is no doubt that students, at all levels of education, experienced a disruption in their education during spring 2020. At the K-12 level, a recent study found that students may be substantially behind in math and enter the fall 2020 school year with increased variability in academic skills and have significantly more content to make up in order to progress in course or content sequences. More research is needed at the higher education level, but institutions must prepare for a similar situation; gaps in course or content sequences could affect college students as well for both those beginning college in the fall and those continuing. Of critical importance is understanding that persistent equity gaps will widen. Students from low-income communities and backgrounds will find themselves even further behind.

While various learning mindset strategies (metacognition, growth mindset) cannot make up for gaps in content or for faculty incorporating engaging pedagogies or active, collaborative learning strategies, but there is a substantial set of literature that illustrates such mindset strategies can go a long way in building resiliency in students, helping students manage anxiety associated with academic success, and manage imposter syndrome or stereotype threat. The benefits for students who identify as Black or African American, Native American, Latinx, Asian, Pacific-Islander, multi-racial are even greater, with efforts showing gains in student academic achievement.

Faculty Training

Faculty play an important role in supporting student mental health. They are the one consistent interaction point all students have, including in-person and virtual instruction. Because of this, it is essential that we equip faculty with the skills to recognize students in distress, confidence in addressing the concerns, and knowledge and support to refer students to appropriate resources for further assistance. 

Faculty were tasked with unprecedented work in the context of transitioning courses online in the spring 2020 semester, and some recent discussions suggest the future of faculty work has been permanently altered. Equipping faculty with the tools, resources, and support to better integrate systems of support in the classroom, develop self-regulated learners, and identify and connect students to campus resources is of increasing priority.

Practical Options to Use to Help You Manage the Impact of the Pandemic

We recommend utilizing a combination of integrating existing efforts with implementing new tools and resources to manage the mental health impacts of COVID-19 in academic spaces. The table below presents the topic, a brief description, how to connect with resources in the short-term, and recommendations for building out efforts in the long-term. The focus of these recommendations is on tools and resources for faculty and staff to use to support student academic success.

Topic/Idea Description


(short-term; tools students, faculty, and staff can connect with right away)


(long-term; requires campus-wide conversations to implement strategies to work toward institutional-level change)

Early identification, outreach, and assessment

Use the Excelling@Iowa survey questions on mental health to better identify and inform individual student needs and concerns, and conduct further data analysis and assessment with other institutional data and surveys to create a narrative regarding the impacts of COVID-19 on student mental health

  1. Writing a reflective assignment on the student report is required for students enrolled in all sections of College Transitions, Student-Athlete Transition Courses, etc. (see attached sample assignment prompts that faculty and staff can use when assisting new first year students)
  2. Revised outreach and intervention plan for faculty and staff E@I users; enhanced guidance, templates for outreach regarding overall wellness in the user manual that be accessed by faculty and staff at any time (see attached Excelling@Iowa user manual)


  1. Create a team to conduct data analysis and assessment (as mentioned in the description); and to disaggregate data by race and ethnicity
  2. Share reports with the campus community in ways that influence institutional decision-making and faculty teaching and learning approaches
Learning mindset strategies

Explore ways for faculty and peer academic support leaders to integrate messages at key points throughout the semester

1.     Provide links for faculty and staff regarding learning mindset tools and resources.







  1. Connect with campus-wide work toward creating a Learning Model based on “3M”: memory, metacognitition, and mindset to create a series of institutional strategies, some specific to mental health and academic success
  2. Work with Office of Teaching, Learning, and Technology to create a series of workshops based off the above




Faculty training and support

Equip faculty with the tools and resources to identify student concerns in in-person and online environments; provide support to students experiences mental health concerns; and create referrals to campus resources;

  1. Deliver a session of a workshop/presentation by the Dean of Students Student Care and Assistance and Academic Support and Retention (see attached ppt of session)
  2. Post online recorded version of the above workshop/presentation online spaces that house faculty instructional support resources
  3. Provide links to COVID-19 pandemic response survey results: https://assessment.uiowa.edu/prs


  1. Create a series of workshops (both live and recorded) that break out topics from the general workshop mentioned in the short-term deliverable



Who Is This For

This plan primarily addresses faculty and staff by providing these groups with tools and resources to better identify and support students who may be experiencing unique academic issues due to COVID-19 related mental health concerns. In summary:

For faculty

  • Links to mindset strategies and ideas that can be implemented during key times throughout a course (at the beginning of the semester; prior to or after exams, midterms; anytime faculty feel such messaging would be encouraging and supportive)
  • Workshop by Student Care and Assistance and Academic Support and Retention regarding how to identify and support students of concern
  • Links to Pandemic Response Survey so that faculty can better understand implications of COVD
  • For faculty teaching first year students (via First Year Seminar, College Transitions, etc.), examples of Excelling@Iowa metacognitive assignments using the student report

For staff

  • For staff who use Excelling@Iowa, enhanced messages and templates
  • Links to mindset strategies that can be incorporated through supporting conversations or interactions outside of class

For students

  • This proposal does not include specific tools for students to use per se, but instead places the onus of providing more supportive academic environments and tools/resources on faculty and staff who may be working more directly with students in academic settings
  • Additional academic success strategies and campus-wide academic support options are updated at Tutor Iowa, so providing this resource in multiple spaces may streamline the search process for students seeking support and resources in virtual learning environments