Excelsior College Responds to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The past few months unfolded in a way and at a pace that many institutions planned for but hoped would never happen. COVID-19 had an impact on communities in new ways almost daily. As colleges and universities across the world worked fervently to protect the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff, new challenges emerged.

Social-distancing procedures closed many campuses for the rest of the spring semester. Excelsior College is a distance-learning institution, and courses continued smoothly as students continued working from their own spaces. However, nearly 375 employees work on site in Albany, New York. In mid-March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued workforce reduction orders for nonessential businesses. First, he issued a 50 percent reduction, then 75 percent, followed quickly by a 100 percent work-remote order. The College converted to fully remote within days. Student services and course instruction remained consistent as staff transitioned to the new normal.

The new physical distance of employees turned thoughts to connecting with the larger college community. Institutions were moving traditional classrooms to digital, and some faculty and students struggled in the online space. Excelsior is proud of its history in distance learning and found a way to support other institutions through a COVID-19 Peer Resource webpage: a compilation of articles and resources to ease the transition to the landscape of digital classrooms.

Confident in Excelsior’s place as a leader in online education, the College shares freely with other institutions so that everyone is stronger in the end.

In an effort to help colleges and K–12 schools build their online courses quickly, Excelsior created a landing page with resources on best practices in online teaching and online learning. These landing pages saw web traffic climb, and President James N. Baldwin and Provost John Caron positioned the College to be a thought leader and a resource for distance education. For example, University Business and Evolllution published Baldwin and Caron’s articles on strategies for faculty and institutional leaders to elevate their online teaching and online learning. “The ramp up to online [teaching and learning] that many colleges and K–12 schools did in response to COVID-19 was impressive. But, as schools move out of emergency mode, they will have to look beyond the basic conversion of face-to-face content and think about how they can create a sustained presence, engagement, and interaction in an online environment,” says Caron.

In other outreach, faculty program directors were interviewed by EAB, a provider of technology, research, and services for educational institutions, for advice on building an online community. Excelsior also partnered with Ellucian, a technology company that provides software and services to the higher-education sector, to host a webinar on the benefits of online learning, evaluation of online teaching and learning, support for online students, and enrollment management.

As news of the crisis that health care workers face unfolded, the College shipped 20,000 exam gloves from its nursing program to New York City for the Javits Center, and, outside of work, some staff members made fabric masks for first responders. Excelsior’s partnership team coordinated meal deliveries to six local hospitals for health care workers. Pizza Hut partners exclusively with Excelsior for education and partnered again to bring their best pizzas to hospital staff. Photos and messages of appreciation poured in from hospitals. Excelsior employees honored Excelsior-educated nurses on the front lines, combatting the virus.

Physical distancing has changed Excelsior. Remote work is still the norm, and staff have a deepened appreciation for students learning and faculty teaching at a distance. The College also shined a light on the strong teaching model, robust courses, and the commitment of students. Confident in Excelsior’s place as a leader in online education, the College shares freely with other institutions so that everyone is stronger in the end. This community pulls together for support, growth, appreciation, and gratitude. This community is Excelsior proud.