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Published April 24th 2020

It Takes A (Virtual) Village: Higher Education During A Pandemic

College students across America are facing unprecedented challenges. How can universities help them adjust?

Covid-19 has flipped the script for college students everywhere.

In just one month, spring semester vanished, classes were moved online, and students were forced to head home. In the United States, at least 1,149 colleges and universities have closed, affecting over 14 million students.

In this article, we’ll take you through:

  • How students are adapting to online learning, and their key concerns
  • Top topics around graduations this year
  • How college life continues under lockdown

Before we get started, we’d encourage you to sign up here to access dashboards with free insights for your college or university around Covid-19. These custom Covid-19 trackers are available for US universities and colleges.

Online learning

From large lecture halls to gallery view on Zoom calls, online learning has been forced into the spotlight as professors and students alike acclimatize to virtual education.

In fact, conversation around online learning increased by 24,835% in late March, compared to February.

But looking at the ratio of positive to negative mentions, the picture is pretty bleak (14% positive, 86% negative).


82% of negative conversation is driven by lack of support and clarity on schedules, attendance, assessments, and generally what’s needed from students.

Put simply, the conversation around online learning right now is defined by confusion.

Thousands of students took to social media to say they didn’t understand the process of moving their studies online, wondering if classes would be at the same time and date and how they could access their professors outside class time.

Concerns about equality

In the midst of this conversation around the practicalities for all students, bigger questions are being raised about equality and those who might find the move hardest.

Some students are finding participating in classes remotely incredibly difficult, with the challenges of a chaotic home life or technical difficulties to overcome.

The main drivers behind inequality discussions are detailed here:

Fortunately, as part of the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, the FCC has asked internet service providers (ISPs) not to disconnect consumers who cannot pay their bills, waive late fees, and open up Wi-Fi hotspots across the country. A long list of companies has already signed on to the pledge and, unsurprisingly, these brands are receiving plenty of positive mentions online.

Universities would be wise to remain mindful of the varied circumstances their students will find themselves in, and making support easily available could make students’ lives much easier.


Conversations around graduation in March 2020 are up 31.35% compared to March of last year, driven by a number of factors.

For college seniors, the end of spring semester is particularly hard. Graduation, spring celebrations, final send offs – these are all experiences that will have a very different look in 2020.

But despite a lot of disappointment, we did find plenty of hope and excitement about upcoming graduations online. While the celebrations might be a little different, the achievements are still the same.

Some colleges are working on creating a virtual graduation experience for their seniors, while others are planning to postpone the ceremony until things settle down. The changes aren’t stopping some students from taking part in a bit of tradition, though.

Medical students in particular have expressed concerns about graduating on time, as the quarantine limits the number of clinical hours they can fit in.

But we’ve also found a lot of positivity around early graduations for medical school attendees, who are now going into the workforce at a vital time.

College life continues

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom. As resilient 20-somethings often do, college kids have found a way to have fun despite all the stress.

Comparing March to February, we found a 182% increase in unique authors mentioning virtual pub quizzes with friends (new and old), while online book clubs and wine clubs are also seeing increased online interest.

Connection might look different now, but it’s still a core part of college life in isolation.

Track Covid-19 conversation around your college or university

It’s vital to stay on top of how people are talking about your college or university, especially during a crisis.

To get access to a bespoke coronavirus tracker for your college, free of charge, fill out the form on this page.

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