Reimaging the Student Educational Experiences: Post COVID, Fires, Floods, and Water Insecurities

Concurrent Session 2

Brief Abstract

NMHU experienced crisis beyond COVID: wildfires, flooding, and water insecurities.  Leadership is exploring lessons learned at the same time addressing our increasingly segmented demographics. Join us as we explore the lessons learned and positive movement forward in crafting quality educational experience for each segment and delivery modality.  


Roxanne has dedicated her career to provide access to higher education having served as an administrator and faculty in the U.S., England, and Germany with a focus on post-traditional populations. She is the provost and vice-president of academic affairs at New Mexico Highlands University, a Hispanic Serving Institution. Previously she was the executive dean of Venango College at Clarion University. She has served in leadership roles that include, academic dean of the College for Professional Studies at Regis University, dean of distance learning as well as a tenured associate professor of Adult Education at Park University, assistant professor of Adult Education at Colorado State University, director of education and training at Hanscom AFB, MA, and assistant education services officer/guidance counselor at Bitburg AB, Germany, and other administrative positions serving first generation, high need students with the TRIO program Educational Talent Search.

Extended Abstract

As many institutions are facing increasing enrollment pressures, higher education is becoming a more segmented market.  While all students expect a high quality education, how they go to class and all of the support systems and amenities vary widely.  After the goal of earning the degree, priorities among traditional and post-traditional students seem almost opposite.  Beyond these concerns add a post-COVID world and meeting the needs of students in higher education.  What are the expectations now for students, faculty, and staff?  NMHU had other crisis that moved the discussion to the forefront sooner than we expected.        

NMHU experienced COVID as did all of higher education.  However, as the campus community in Las Vegas began to plan for a return to “normal” for the fall, a major forest fire of almost 400,000 acres threated the campus and local community resulting in the campus closing for two weeks and a shift to teaching and working at a distance yet again due to smoke, flooding, and contamination from the runoff from the watershed into our reservoirs.  However, the extended centers across the state remained functioning as usual.  During the summer, NMHU leaders came together to explore what our post-COVID/crisis model for services and course delivery might look like going forward and what resources would be needed.  We also discussed possible policy changes that might be needed.     

This interactive session will share how COVID and crisis moved NMHU to begin exploring our content delivery and services based on the student experience rather than by delivery modality.  We will explore the question “How does a university that is open admissions offer high quality education across multiple delivery options to students with such different priorities?”     

Understanding the Student

  • Residential (Traditional)

Residential students are most often students entering college directly after high school.  They live in the residence halls and their social life is the campus community. 

  • Commuter (Post-Traditional)

Commuter students may share the campus with residential students or attend a non-residential campus center.  They often have other competing demands such as work and family to balance with their education leaving less time (and need) for social activity with their classmates.

  • Online (Post-Traditional)

Online students rarely, if ever, visit a physical campus site.  They enroll, register, and attend classes at a distance through the use of technology.  Like the other group of post-traditional students, commuters, they have other competing obligations like work and family.  They may also travel frequently for work or be deployed with the military.

Understanding the Delivery

Each method of delivery certain attributes.  An attribute considered a weakness by one student may be considered a strength to a different student.  It’s short sighted to say that face-to-face classes are better than online classes because students are different.  What works for one, doesn’t work for another.  In most cases, student should ultimately decide the best delivery fit for themselves, sorting between trade-offs between types of interaction, flexibility, and access.  It’s important to note that there are no universally accepted definitions, but here’s what we propose for our discussion today:

  • Face-to-Face

Face-to-face course delivery is what most everyone experiences in the majority of their education.  The class meets at a certain time and in a certain place.  Instructional methods can vary, but are often centered on a lecture approach.  This approach does not exclude the use of technology in the classroom.  However, technology is not the primary method to bring students and the instructor together to exchange information and ideas.

  • Hybrid

Hybrid is a broadly inclusive term.  Essentially, any class delivery that isn’t fully face-to-face or entirely asynchronous online, is hybrid.

  • Online

Online is fully asynchronous online delivery.  It requires no particular time or place to engage in class.

Lessons Learned from COVID/Crisis

  • There is a significant difference between “emergency” online courses and long-term, well-designed online courses
  • Instructional Designers played a valuable role supporting faculty and assisting with a quicker and more efficient transfer to the online classroom
  • Hours in online class/meetings is both mentally and physically taxing
  • Some students discovered that they liked the flexibility of online courses, others received validation that online was not the right choice for them
  • Social interaction requires intentional effort online as opportunities for spontaneous conversations that occur in person don’t happen online
  • Wrap around student services are more vital during crisis, staff and faculty also require support services
  • The role of statewide centers becomes more integral in serving the residential students     

Developing a Strategy and Structure

  • Traditional Experience

The traditional experience focuses on social activities and a community atmosphere.  Classes are offered in person, consistent with building a sense of place. 

  • Commuter Experience

The commuter experience focuses on creating a sense of place during the time that students are on-site for classes.  Classes may be face-to-face or hybrid.  Food options, student lounges, and study space is available.  Limited activities are available such as food trucks on certain evenings during the semester.  Tickets to off campus events such as Highlands night at the Isotopes (local minor league baseball team.)

  • Online Experience

The online experience is the most flexible as it requires no certain place or time to participate (other than the start/end date for the class.)  Students are encouraged to build study groups utilizing technology provided by the university.  However, social interaction is conducted through technology rather than at a physical location as students are often located at a significant distance from one another.


It should go without saying that we expect students to grow intellectually over the course of their education.  But, they also grow in their understanding of how higher education works, what’s important to learning, and their true motivation for learning.  However, Universities often market themselves as if prospective students are already “insiders.”  In reality, prospective students decide where to enroll based on only a vague idea of what life will be like four years down the road.  Even if they did have a crystal ball to tell them exactly what life would be like once they earned their degree, it’s impossible to know every decision necessary to get from A to Z.

In other words, students decide where to go based on a very incomplete picture of where they think they are going in life and what it takes to get there.  Universities may give excellent advice on what is necessary to earn a degree and master a given body of knowledge, but prospective students are rarely in a position to evaluate whether what a university offers will get them where they want to go.

The solution is to meet students where they are.  Speak to what they value as prospective students realizing that those priorities will evolve as they progress in their course of study.

Integrity of Experience--Keeping True to Your Word

Over the years I’ve spent in higher education, I’ve often heard faculty express concern regarding students living in residence halls isolated from campus because they take all of their classes online.  While it’s certainly possible for students to complete their program requirements in this fashion, it short-changes the student, robbing them of the social interaction that is designed to be part of the campus experience.

On the other end of the spectrum, universities often offer programs that can only be completed partially online.  This serves neither the traditional student nor the online student well. 

Residential students should experience the residential experience rather than taking online classes from a residence hall.

Online students should be assured that they can complete their full program online except for certain requirements such as practicums and clinical placements.

Likewise, the commuter experience should not be a “cobbled together” set of class offerings in a haphazard variety of modalities.

All students deserve a course of study that carefully considers their experience both inside and beyond the classroom.