Date of Award

Spring 5-12-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Leadership Studies

Committee Chair

Autumn Dodge

Committee Member

John S. Capps

Committee Member

Nancy Hubbard


Postsecondary education changed dramatically in March of 2020. Colleges and universities across the nation were forced to acknowledge the immediacy of the crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic and completely transition their learning and academic support models to a virtual environment. This transition, in many cases, took place over a matter of days, to ensure some measure of continuity for their students. At Central Virginia Community College (CVCC), a public, two-year college serving approximately 3,400 students in the greater Central Virginia region, the transition occurred expeditiously, and with a strong sense of purpose—helping the students we serve stay connected to the college.

Research regarding barriers to access to postsecondary education dates as far back as the early 1970s with one pioneering educational psychologist from Brown University taking the lead in this space. Dr. Ruth B. Ekstrom documented in her 1972 report to the National Center for Educational Statistics at least three distinct categories of barriers that existed at the time. They were institutional barriers, situational barriers, and dispositional barriers (Ekstrom, 1972).

For the purpose of this study, conducted within a hermeneutic phenomenological framework, each of the three barrier types have been researched extensively and were used as a foundation for conducting interviews with research participants to ascertain the extent to which these barriers were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Their lived experiences prior to, and during the COVID-19 pandemic revealed multiple themes, and those themes helped shape the conclusions drawn when ascertaining the level of impact the pandemic had on their studies. The study concluded that when we stay connected with one another, remain open to adapting our service model, and are viewed as a partner with the communities we serve, student achievement can be enhanced.

Available for download on Monday, May 12, 2025