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Dell Scholars student Noel works on his computer at home

Dell Scholars Program Supports College Persistence Amid COVID-19

COVID-19 Project Overview

The Dell Scholars program supports students through every aspect of the college journey to help them stay on track to a degree. While the coronavirus pandemic’s far-reaching impact introduced challenges that the program could never have anticipated, the Dell Scholars support model proved its strength as advisors were able to quickly identify and support students in need.

From campus closures to the digital divide, the pandemic exposed and exacerbated existing inequities in higher education often shouldered by students from low-income families. In response, the program’s advisors connected students with critical resources and offered emotional support. Since many Dell Scholars were no longer able to access critical services on campus, the program expanded mental health and technology offerings to address these gaps.

Every student deserves the opportunity to earn a college degree and pursue their professional ambitions. The Dell Scholars program committed to ensuring COVID-19 wouldn’t get in the way of students unlocking this lifetime of opportunity.

Dell Scholars student Jeni takes a walk in her neighborhood.

It helps to know that there’s a support system out there for us.

Current Dell Scholar

How it Helps

When the pandemic closed college campuses across the country, Dell Scholars faced an immediate and challenging adjustment. Many were forced to relocate on short notice, moving into family homes with less than ideal study environments. Scholars and their families faced job loss and emotional upheaval, while adjusting to virtual learning and a “new normal” for their college experience.

The Dell Scholars support model is designed to provide robust support for the full college experience, in a way that’s individualized to each student – from academic and financial factors to social-emotional challenges and personal circumstances. As the pandemic redefined the college experience, Dell Scholars were able to access one-on-one coaching from our advisors along with resources like the Scholar Resource Network (SRN), which offers students and their families free access to mental health counseling, financial and legal support, and other services.

With more than 2,000 students across the country, Dell Scholars advisors needed to quickly understand which scholars were facing urgent needs and where the program’s support could make the greatest impact. Through the program’s student management platform, the team was able to track student outreach and requests, identify trends, and prioritize effectively – even in a moment of crisis.

Dell Scholars student Ethan completes an assignment at home

During this time of crisis, I feel like I am blessed to be part of Dell Scholars.

Current Dell Scholar

Support for College in the Time of Coronavirus

Building on the strengths of the program’s existing support model, here’s how the Dell Scholars program adapted to address student needs during COVID-19.

Emergency Funds

When colleges closed their doors in March, many students living on campus were forced to relocate on short notice, while others moved closer to family to help out through the crisis. Scholars incurred urgent moving expenses and were unable to access on-campus meal plans and local jobs. Practically overnight, their financial planning went out the window.

Targeted deployment of emergency funds made all the difference for Dell Scholars who were unable to cover non-qualified educational expenses resulting from the pandemic. Program advisors compiled resources to help students access travel and storage discounts, free or low-cost internet access, and mental health support. The program’s flexible scholarship funds were able to be tailored to each student’s needs, while financial aid coaching helped them navigate changes to their financial circumstances and the process of financial aid verification.

Technology Access

As colleges shifted to virtual classrooms, students across the country struggled with access to critical technology. All Dell Scholars receive a laptop with a four-year warranty when they’re accepted to the program, but it was difficult for some to stream lectures or make it through an online exam without getting booted off a weak internet connection. In response, the Dell Scholars program provided Wi-Fi devices with unlimited data plans to help students stay connected – no matter where they are logging on.

Mental Health Support

In a time of severe isolation, a public health tragedy and economic recession, an increasing number of students needed mental health support. And while the pandemic introduced unprecedented challenges for college students, it also made it more difficult for them to access critical mental health services on campus. To expand the support available to Dell Scholars, the program offered free teletherapy services through BetterHelp, with anonymous support available by chat, phone, or video.

The Dell Scholars program is constantly seeking new ways to support students along the college journey. Amid the pandemic, the program introduced new programming and services to ensure students had the tools they needed to remain on the path to graduation.

Since launching in 2004, Dell Scholars has grown to a network of 5,300 students including more than 2,400 college graduates. Eighty percent of Dell Scholars graduate within six years, at a rate twice the national average among their peers.

Foundation Project Lead