For TRIO students who need specialized support, going virtual can create unique challenges. First-generation college students and low-income individuals can be unable to adapt as easily to virtual learning than other college students. These 7 tips to help your TRIO students will set them up for success in a distance learning environment.

1. Address the issue of accessibility.

Ensuring that TRIO students have adequate access is the first step. How can they be successful online learners if they don’t have the means or the technology to access it in the first place? For TRIO students from disadvantaged backgrounds, an iPad or Chromebook can give them access to the virtual campus. Comcast is offering two months of free internet access to TRIO participants for those who don’t already have a reliable network at home. Also, arrange for paper materials for students who would prefer them.

2. Provide the same services they count on virtually. 

TRIO students lean heavily on student support systems-provided resources like tutoring and counseling services. These services should be made available virtually via one-on-one video meetings, ideally with the same tutors or counselors they’re used to. The quality of these support systems should remain the same, if not improved in order to help TRIO students in their virtual learning environment.

3. Actively engage in communication with students by reaching out. 

Reaching out to communicate and offer support benefits students of all kinds during virtual learning. This is even more important for TRIO participants. Actively reaching out to a student is a step in meeting their individual needs. TRIO programs aren’t a one-size-fits-all system, so that shouldn’t be the approach for distance learning.

4. Offer training for your TRIO employees to upskill and better serve students.

Teaching and offering academic support online can pose a challenge for TRIO employees such as counselors. Giving them access to training specific to teaching virtually can give them the opportunity to build on skills that will benefit their TRIO students. 

5. Provide up-to-date information and resources.

A priority should be keeping TRIO students in the loop and informed about changes being made. For instance, provide mental health resources, make students aware of the extra academic support they have access to, and keep an open line of communication between you.

6. Offer resources to ease the financial burden. 

With financial guidance being a cornerstone of TRIO programs, disadvantaged families’ finances are likely taking even more of a hit resulting from the pandemic. Help students become aware of the opportunities they have. For example, many universities are offering CARES Act Emergency Grants for eligible students affected by COVID-19. A lot of students won’t know about this unless it’s clearly and frequently communicated to them. Emergency grants or similar programs can help ease financial stress that might be getting in the way of succeeding in virtual learning.

7. Be a light.

The purpose of TRIO is to empower students to overcome their obstacles to reach their higher education goals. TRIO students need to know they’re believed in and supported, even through a screen. A program should be that voice telling them even with this extra challenge, they can accomplish anything. When a student’s home life is tense or they don’t feel supported, a TRIO leader can be someone they can talk through concerns with. Send a weekly piece of good news or some positive quotes. Give them extra positive feedback and reinforcement for their work, as this will go a long way during a challenging time. Let them know even though they’re physically isolated, they are by no means alone.

Overall, these tips to help your TRIO students aim to holistically approach helping them by focusing on logistical, financial, mental and emotional factors. TRIO students already need to clear extra hurdles in higher education. So when colleges go online, giving these students extra assistance can make that jump a little smoother on their way toward the finish line.