Students Share Perspectives on COVID-19

AACTE Responds to COVID-19


In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, higher education institutions and its students are facing significant challenges and uncertainties. Graduate students enrolled in colleges and schools of education, in particular, have had to respond to the current circumstances and find solutions to continue their academic pursuit and scholarly productivity. AACTE recently interviewed three graduate students from our member institutions about how the current crisis has affected them. The following themes emerged from these interviews.

Challenges with Adapting to Distance Learning

As a result of campus closures, graduate students have found themselves having to engage in distance learning fully. Although some have had experience in taking and teaching online courses, there are still unique challenges when all learning occurs virtually. These challenges are more common for students who are parents and have to oversee instruction for children in PK-12 schools during daytime hours. Additionally, students who are in a household with multiple adults teleworking or engaging in distance learning places a strain on their ability to focus and on resources like Wifi connectivity. Graduate students have expressed having to complete their studies during abnormal hours due to these distractions in their home environments.

“I have had to adjust the hours I am able to get work done.  Due to everyone working from home during regular office hours, the internet is slower and there is lots of background noise in my community,” said Reena Patel-Viswanath, a doctoral candidate at the University of South Carolina. “I have found the time to get work done is from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.  This is when everyone is quiet.  While this is not ideal, I remind myself it is temporary.”

Impact on Program Completion

Students are experiencing uncertainties related to their program completion, particularly, when their clinical experiences or dissertation projects involve fieldwork in K-12 schools. “Last week, the university declared closure for the entire spring 2020 semester. “As a result, my pilot study, which is clinical experience-based has ceased,” said Azaria Cunningham, a doctoral student at Pennsylvania State University. “{A] colleague has also changed her dissertation date to potentially a year later due to COVID-19. She’s had to advocate … to secure her own funding for next year.”

Having to secure funding to support their enrollment for an additional year makes things more complicated when students are advocating for support at a time when higher education institutions are still trying to figure out how to respond to an evolving crisis. Despite these challenges, students expressed gratitude for the initiatives that their institutions have implemented, like changes to the grading system (Pass/Fail as opposed to letter grades) and extensions on due dates for graduation requirements.

Financial Implications  

With several institutions freezing certain operations, graduate students are also being impacted financially. Students who were intending to use travel funds for conferences have been informed that those funds are no longer available for the foreseeable future due to freezes. As students plan for summer and fall conferences, they’re unsure of whether funding will be granted for them to attend these convenings to present on their research.  

Call for Stories: Students Respond to COVID-19

To better understand the challenges and to coalesce resources to support our member institutions and its students, we invite you to submit a blog post on how you’re responding to the current crisis. Please submit blog articles to me at

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Weade James

Vice President, Organizational Advancement