For students who may delay their college start date due to the impact of COVID-19, Champlain College has recently introduced a virtual gap program.
According to a recent Carnegie Dartlet study, around 33% of students plan to cancel, wait or defer admission if colleges remain completely online for the fall semester.
Champlain’s 15-week program, equivalent to a semester, allows students the opportunity to earn college credit and also gain experience through a virtual internship.
Dr. Lisa Bunders
“We have always been sort of a leader in virtual education and technology so I wanted to offer the students who really wanted a Champlain education an opportunity to get one if we weren’t on campus, or even if we were on campus, but just in a different way,” said Dr. Lisa Bunders, vice president of enrollment management at Champlain.
The virtual gap program offers two tracks.
Under the first option, students earn three college credits. The program’s aim for students is “academic discovery, holistic well-being and internship opportunities.”
“We looked at the elements of a gap year and really tried to think in a student-centered way [about] what students needed right now,” said Emily Crist, library director at Champlain. “This is an anxiety-provoking time for everybody individually, our families, communities and our country. And because of that, we wanted to make wellness the heart of this program.”
Through the semester, the focus will be on self-care and learning techniques to manage stress and anxiety. For instance, one course, “PSY 185: Mindcraft: the Psychology of Well-being,” will be taught by the college’s well-being and success coach Dr. Kimberly Quinn.
Other topics include performance and political protests, relationships, social media, design thinking, and service and sustainability. Alongside business leaders, Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande, the incoming president of Champlain, will lead a speaker series designed to offer advice on the career search process.
A portion of the program is dedicated to international learning and exploration. Champlain faculty and staff from around the world will analyze ecotourism in developing countries, the global game industry as well as religious and sacred areas around the world. Virtual walking tours will also be offered.
In the last five weeks of the program, students complete either a service-learning project, an internship or volunteer experience. Champlain’s career center will mentor students and connect them with employers and businesses.
The second option of the program includes an additional three-credit course on virtual food writing in Montreal or reading and writing on a specific topic. Students can apply for federal financial aid or Pell Grants to help pay for the program.
Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande
“What was very important to us was access and affordability,” said Akande. “As we thought about this program, we wanted to institute a program that would provide access to a great majority of prospective students, as well as to make it very affordable.”
The program begins Aug. 31 and ends the week of Dec. 14. To be eligible, applicants must hold either a high school diploma or GED and be between the ages of 18 and 21. Those students who complete the program will have priority reading for admission to Champlain.
Champlain’s goal is to admit 50-75 students in the first cohort of the virtual gap program, according to Bunders.
“We wanted to offer high school graduates an option no matter their circumstances or how difficult their senior year has been,” she added.
Akande said this program will prepare students for their next step in their lives, such as entering college full-time — not necessarily at Champlain — in the future.
“It [college] may be somewhere else. But we want to be that bridge, that intellectual reach, that preparation bridge that takes them for where they are to where they want to be,” he said.
Crist emphasized that this is an interactive, virtual experience rather than just an online course.
“Having those ‘in-person’ interactions and having the ability to build a community is built into the program,” she said. “And so even as it scales up, students will get a really personal experience.”
The university plans to continue the program and will offer a second semester in January.
“This is an initiative that we’re going to embrace and enhance as we move into the future,” said Akande. “We believe that there will be an increased demand for a gap year for high school seniors. And as a first mover on this, we believe that we will be the destination of choice for prospective high school seniors moving into the future and the uniqueness of this program is the broad diversity and curriculum that it covers.”
Sarah Wood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.