Bridging K-12 to College Transitions

On-Demand Webinar | Watch Anytime

May 20, 2020

Academic disruption is likely to exacerbate pipeline leaks at key transition points, and traditionally underserved students are at greatest risk. In the short-term, higher education must rethink summer bridge programs to address summer melt and learning loss.

COVID-19 has thrust the higher education sector into disarray. In response, the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), Education Strategy Group (ESG), and The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) have joined forces to produce a series of policy-related webinars designed to help higher education leaders make the comeback that will be needed to accelerate COVID-19 recovery.


  • Kim Cook, Executive Director, National College Attainment Network
  • Ann Kress, President, Northern Virginia Community College
  • Aaron Thompson, President, Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education


  • Matt Gandal, President and CEO of the Educational Strategy Group


  • This webinar addresses how academic disruption is likely to exacerbate pipeline leaks among systems, and the ways by which traditionally underserved students are at greatest risk. Higher education must rethink how to support students in this transition to ensure enrollment and success. 
  • Below is a summary of discussion highlights, followed by time-coded audience questions and panel responses.


Discussion Highlights

COVID-19 has shifted student thinking. Enrollment of high school graduates into postsecondary colleges has decreased due to pandemic and affordability issues. “Summer melt” is the phenomenon by which about a third of college-bound students don’t make it to college by fall. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a rise in the share of students who intend to take a “gap year” between high school graduation and college. These “pipeline leaks” from high school to college are increasing. College leaders around the nation are finding innovative ways by which to encourage students to persist in their educational pursuits, and to increase college enrollments, particularly for disenfranchised groups.


Messaging to Students

Kentucky’s Aaron Thompson stresses that colleges should talk more about the value of college, not just about degrees and certificates. A focus on increasing enrollment rates is important for several different reasons. First, a state can only be vibrant and economically sound when its workforce is highly competent, with the kind of specialized skills and lasting soft skills acquired through higher education. In addition, decreased state funding and increased budget cuts will require a greater influx of resources through increased admissions. Reaching out to more out-of-state and adult students, and redoubling efforts to engage students from distressed communities, are necessary means toward the end of improving enrollment rates.

Federal stimulus monies have allowed institutions such as Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) to conduct virtual meetings with students, parents, civic groups and congregations and to support a Jump Start program which offers free college courses to eligible graduating seniors.

Benefits of Dual enrollment

To avoid losing momentum, stimulus monies have also been used to grow dual enrollment by offering scholarships to high school and other students to take free transferable courses over the summer as well as technical skills courses such as cloud computing. Colleges agree that a success strategy is to provide free courses that are part of a curriculum pathway. In addition to reduced costs, to transition more students means to build up the student pipeline and viable career pathways.

FAFSA & Advising

FAFSA completion rates are strong indicators of future college enrollment, and colleges are proactively reaching out to high school and other students with FAFSA Week/Month workshops and informing students about financial aid appeals to make awards based on current family incomes (rather than their family’s 2018 tax forms since COVID-19 unemployment claims have risen to 43 million claims). College financial aid offices are also reaching out to assist students on FAFSA completion, not just sending out a link and nudging students to complete the application.

Some colleges have mobilized staff working at home to contact high school seniors and their parents as well as student peer groups. This effort has proven to be effective in engaging new students. With an emphasis on grassroots outreach, colleges are also using video conferencing to engage with their local business community and school district to focus on engaging underrepresented students.

Trustee Roles

With a mantra that colleges are helping build the workforce, community college boards of trustees can help push messages out to engage employers and the business community. To be most effective, boards need to be engaged in community outreach projects, whether these involve tapping trustees’ local connections or hosting brown-bag lunches.

Guided by Equity

The pandemic, virtual learning, and economic shortfalls have scaled up the student mental health crisis and exposed stark inequities. Student social, academic and mental health support is now an imperative, more so for disadvantaged and first-generation students. The pandemic has not affected communities equally, and colleges today will be judged for years to come by how they responded to their communities’ needs and how they treated their students during the worst days of the crisis. To prevent exacerbation of existing inequities, each faculty and staff member needs to make vulnerable students aware of wraparound services provided by the college.

Questions & Answers

A number of questions posed to the speakers by moderator Matt Gandal, president and CEO of the Educational Strategy Group, dive into these issues and seek to arrive at concrete solutions and advice. The times below correspond with when the questions were asked during the webinar.


8:40 Given the data about people reconsidering their higher education options, how has the COVID crisis shifted your thinking about outreach to potential students and advising those students?

20:22 What kind of response is there to the summer dual enrollment strategy, specifically free dual enrollment?

28:34 Focusing on FAFSA and advising strategies, what’s working and where have successes been across the country?

38:25 In regard to free summer dual enrollment classes, what went into deciding which specific classes to offer?

40:48 What strategies are effective for reaching high school seniors given that schools aren’t holding in-person classes, and staff are working remotely?

45:54 What can business leaders do to reach their colleagues in an effort to better reach and serve students?

50:53 How do you recommend institutional and system leaders begin to think about addressing students who have not had consistent instruction for the majority of the spring semester?


This webinar is part of a series developed in partnership with our longtime partners Education Strategy Group and the State Higher Education Executive Officers. It is designed to help community college leaders accelerate community colleges' recovery during a major crisis.