We’re all looking into the future with uncertainty but it’s even worse for recent high school graduates, college students, and college graduates. Their plans for the summer and fall are iffy at best. What will they do during their COVID-19 summer and gap year?
What will the college experience be like in the fall?
Students who were planning to start or return to college this fall (and their parents) have to decide if it’s worth paying for a college experience without dorms, dining halls, sports, clubs, and parties. In May, 33% of high school seniors surveyed by Carnegie Dartlet said they may defer or cancel if classes go fully online.
Carnegie Dartlet first surveyed students in March and then again in May. In the interim, students’ concerns about the negative impact of COVID-19 on their education increased significantly. In March, around one in two students had “a lot” of concern or worse. In May, about three in five students had the same level of concern.
As students (and parents) debate the safety of returning to campus, colleges are already talking about a shortened fall semester if a second wave of the virus occurs.
Can students and their parents still afford college?
The decision to attend or return to college is also a financial one. Parents who lost jobs or businesses might not be able to afford tuition. A LendingTree survey found that 36% of parents already tapped their child’s college fund to cover expenses due to the economic impact of the pandemic.
Others worry about future financial security. 35% of employed Americans think it’s likely they’ll lose their job in the next three months, according to a survey funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Gap year: great idea, bad timing
Normally, a high school senior who isn’t fully on board with attending college in the fall would take a gap year to explore different opportunities and gain maturity and focus. According to Google, many of them are investigating that option. The searches for “What is a gap year?” increased 180% in the last week of April. In early May, the Gap Year Association’s website traffic was up 150% compared to the same week last year
Students are trying to find something productive to do while they wait for things to get back to normal. But this isn’t a good time for a gap year. Students can’t travel. Hiring freezes and layoffs mean job opportunities and internships are limited. What can they do?
Congratulations, graduates, and welcome to the recession
High school graduates aren’t the only ones floundering. Recent college graduates started the spring semester full of hope in a booming economy. It was supposed to be the best time of their lives.
But, in a matter of weeks, everything changed. They were kicked off campus and torn from friends. They got a Zoom graduation and a diploma in the mail.
Now, they’re facing a lousy job market with no COVID-related government aid available for them. They can’t file for unemployment, they can’t get loans, and many of them lost the jobs they were counting on for support.
Is there a role for your association during the COVID-19 summer and gap year?
College students and recent graduates have the desire to acquire skills and work experience, find a community of peers and mentors, and build confidence and hope for the future. They want to have a good answer when future employers ask them, “What did you do during the COVID-19 summer? How did you spend your time off from college?”
How can your association help?
Free student pass to virtual conferences
The Biotechnology Innovation Organization is offering a free student pass to their virtual conference, BIO Digital, in June. The pass includes:
• Special student sessions on industry insights, networking tips, and professional development skills—you could even offer programs on adulting skills.
• Full access to the virtual conference program.
• On-demand company presentations on pipeline, R&D, and business goals—you could also ask companies to discuss hiring trends and in-demand skills.
• Virtual networking with students and industry professionals.
• Discounts on online course bundles.
If you decide to offer a student pass, include students in the design process so the program meets their needs.
Online learning programs, microcredentials and digital badges
Some associations are stepping up to fill in educational gaps. For example, the American Medical Association is offering free undergraduate medical education resources during the COVID-19 crisis. “We are helping medical schools quickly adjust educational practices by offering access to 13 Health System Science Learning Series modules, including transcript tracking.”
Put together discounted online learning packages that allow students and recent graduates to acquire in-demand workplace skills. Upon completion of these learning pathways, award microcredentials and digital badges to learners who prove their mastery of new competencies. These credentials give them a leg up on their talent competition.
Although many associations have campus-based student chapters, now it’s time to consider virtual student chapters. Give student chapter members access to special online forums for college students and recent graduates. Recruit virtual volunteers from your regular membership to spend a little time interacting with students on the forums and at virtual events.
Many young adults may be ready to learn more about the industry or profession you serve. Create an “early career” section in your career center where you share information about different career paths.
Include video interviews with members who are a few years out of college/school and members who are a bit further down the career track. Post interviews with employers who talk about what they seek in recent graduates and give advice on skills and experience to acquire.
About 22% of employers are revoking offers to interns because of the pandemic, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Can your association help coordinate internships with member employers in your industry?
If coordinating is a stretch right now, how about assessing employer interest in offering micro-internships that lasts a few weeks instead of a summer. Post these opportunities on your job board and get the word out to students and colleges via social media.
Association innovation lab
Does your association have ideas that you’ve parked for consideration later when things calm down? How about problems that need solving but only when staff bandwidth opens up? Consider recruiting virtual interns to take a crack at them.
Students and recent graduates bring different skills and perspectives to projects. For example, assign teams of virtual interns to design student or early career programs, create new virtual networking events, or establish virtual mentoring or volunteering programs.
Staff and volunteers can provide coaching and mentoring along the way. Students get the chance to show future employers—perhaps your members—how they helped the association solve a problem or create a new revenue- or engagement-generating program.
It’s easy to lose sight of the potential members and customers in the student and recent graduate population, especially when your association’s focus is drawn to other priorities, like virtual events and pandemic-related member services. However, these COVID-19 summer and gap year programs provide an opportunity for members and staff to help others amidst a crisis while creating strong ties with students and recent graduates.