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Higher Ed’s Learner-centered Responses to the Pandemic

We continue to be inspired by the ways higher ed is responding to this moment on behalf of learners and communities. And we are hearing from our network how the design tools and methods we’ve shared over the years have helped them respond and adapt to the COVID-19 crisis. Many had already begun to pivot toward a fast-changing future, and now they are demonstrating resilience in the face of change. We’re heartened to see our institutional partners that have embraced student-centered solutions double-down on their values and commitment. A few examples:

  • Central New Mexico Community College and Florida International University have quickly mobilized to use the Lab’s microcredentials to equip local workforces—including frontline emergency workers—with critical 21st century skills, which are needed now more than ever.
  • Ivy Tech Community College and Delgado Community College are pressing forward to launch Single Moms Success pilots in fall 2020. Ivy Tech donors are helping the college provide resources and opportunities for single mother learners—and they credit the college for listening to single moms and raising awareness about their experiences.
  • Catholic University and Pima Community College announced a new hybrid undergraduate business degree program, targeting low-income Latinx high school graduates. This affordable, non-residential, earn and learn program offers a much needed flexible option for learners who need close-to-home degree pathways that allow them to work and provide for their families.

Read on for more stories that will give you hope.


Central New Mexico Community College
Alburquerque, New Mexico

>> partnering with UnityBPO, a local Albuquerque IT company that provides essential support to hospitals, long-term care facilities, and patients across the country, to train frontline workers in critical 21st century skills using the Lab’s microcredentials

Southern New Hampshire University
Manchester, New Hampshire

>> using their dining services to prep, cook, and distribute 5,000 meal packs, each containing two lunches, to families with school children across five locations in the city
>> faculty, staff, and learners are donating iPads to local hospitals and hospice centers so that families can be with their loved ones, virtually
>> providing free online resources for educators, frontline workers, and the public; namely, addressing needs for individuals who do not have the option to work remotely>> offering a scholarship for free tuition to all incoming campus freshman + accelerating the development of hybrid online and on-campus models to bring tuition down by 61%


Hampshire College
Amherst, Massachusetts

>> offering all available space in residence halls to people experiencing homelessness in the region


MN COVIDSitters, University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota + Saint Paul, Wisconsin

>> created by two medical students, MN COVIDSitters matches students with healthcare providers in the Twin Cities metro area to provide childcare, pet-sitting, and/or errand-running (think: groceries)

Muskegon Community Colleges + Jackson College + Dutchess Community College
Michigan + New York

>> preparing on-campus facilities to help serve local patient-care efforts (think: turning gymnasiums and residence halls into hospital wards and donating PPE (personal protective equipment))


Muskegon Community College is one of many preparing its facilities to help serve local patient-care efforts.


3D Mask + PPE Printing Efforts

>> Make4Covid, born out of University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus (Colorado), is building a network of 1,200 medical professional, industrial designers, supply chain managers, engineers, marketers, and scientific advisors to 3D print PPE 
>> faculty and students at Duke University (North Carolina), University of North Carolina (North Carolina), Rowan University (New Jersey), SUNY Stony Brook (New York), Universities of Montevallo (Alabama), Johnson County Community College (Kansas), and University of South Carolina are mobilizing to create masks and face shields, sanitize existing equipment, and donate PPE supplies and 3D printers to make PPE 


Rice University
Houston, Texas

>> offering free learning + resources to faculty and learners on-campus and beyond
>> Rice’s SAFE Office and Health and Wellness Center is running a series throughout the month of April addressing the impact of COVID-19 on victims/survivors of sexual violence and abuse


Sinclair Community College
Dayton, Ohio

>> faculty and staff have made 16,000 phone calls to their learning community via a newly launched Student Phone Outreach Campaign designed to support students who are military affiliates or still in high school, alongside any student who did not enroll in online courses after all in-person programs were cancelled


edX + Supporting Institutions (including Harvard University + Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

>> offering free, specialized classes to teach medical professionals who don’t specialize in critical care how to operate ventilators

>> providing learners with free access to courses and programs from universities and all edX partners via a newly launched Remote Access Program


edX and Harvard are launching a free online course on ventilator use that addresses an urgent need for medical professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Northern Virginia Community College
Multiple counties across Virginia

>> offering tuition-free online courses to 70,000 high school students, targeting rising and graduating seniors and funded by institutional dollars from the Federal stimulus


University of Illinois
Multiple campuses across Illinois

>> allocating $36 million in new, targeted financial aid to create the Students FIRST (Funding Is Required to Support Tuition and other costs): COVID-19 Emergency Fund to help defray tuition, housing and other costs for undergraduate and graduate students experiencing unexpected shortfalls 

>> offering free digital textbooks to learners


ECMC Foundation + Multiple Institutions + Organizations

>> committing $1.5 million to facilitate emergency aid to nearly 3,000 students and provide resources for more than 100,000 students, focusing on supporting learners with unplanned financial expenses and emergencies related to sudden lack of housing, food, healthcare, technological access and other essential supports


Robeson Community College
Lumberton, North Carolina

>> created “The Learning Lot,” a drive-in WiFi area at the college, open to students and the public, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mon-Thurs, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fri-Sat


The Learning Lot at Robeson Community College.


South Piedmont Community College

>> created a series of online short-term courses open to the public for a $5 fee designed to meet the needs of all affected by the pandemic; courses include strategies and retooling for the underemployed, resume updating, varying technical software proficiency, finance, home repair, and language.


North Carolina Community Colleges
North Carolina

>> tens of institutions donating PPE and needed medical supplies to frontline workers and healthcare facilities


Forsyth Technical Community College
Winston-Salem, North Carolina

>> pairing staff and faculty, especially those who cannot telework, with students to ensure that all students, specifically students most marginalized in this moment, connect with and stay connected with school services via a new program “Forsyth Tech Cares”


Medical Students From Multiple Institutions

>> medical students from New York University to Tufts University to Boston University are volunteering to graduate two-months early to begin practicing in cities most impacted by COVID-19


Filmed and produced by The New York Times, medical students from New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine take their hypocratic oath two months early to start practicing in New York.


How is your institution or learning provider supporting your community? Share any good design or awesome work-arounds you see–we’ll keep this list updated.

last updated April 23