The forced expeditious transition online induced by the COVID-19 pandemic caused a massive disruption to education. COVID-19 exacerbated the inequities that existed in education for years. As technology advances and integrates with education, it can both enhance inclusive instructional practices, as well as exacerbate issues of equity. Achievement gaps will persist unless colleges create equitable educational environments for all students, including “at-risk” populations such as those enrolled in the Extended Opportunity Program and Services (EOPS) program—a state funded equity program.

Through the lens of digital equity and inclusion theoretical frameworks, the purpose of this embedded mixed methods study was to understand the described barriers of EOPS students, as a representation of at-risk student populations, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A diverse sample of 249 students qualifying as low-income with at least one documented academic barrier from a Southern California community college who received EOPS services any time between the Spring 2020 and Spring 2022 terms participated in the study by completing an electronic survey. Findings indicate that during the COVID-19 pandemic, students faced unprecedented change academically and psychologically. While the responses varied amongst the participants, triangulation of quantitative and qualitative data resulted in four study conclusions. First, campus technological resources and facilities are essential to assuage the impact of the digital divide. Mental health is a critical component for adult student success and holistic, comprehensive student support services solidifies foundational supports necessary for student success. Lastly, online learning will continue to be the preferred choice of adult learners as it provides the autonomy and creates flexibility and options for meeting basic needs. At a minimum, recommendations for practice include an updated student needs assessment, continued mental health services, investment in the EOPS program, and digital skills training.

This study builds upon research regarding the ongoing investigation of the effects of COVID-19 on college students while addressing what remains to be explored regarding at-risk student populations at California community colleges. The findings presented in this study provide insight to what educational institutions do to mitigate or reinforce educational inequities.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Educational equalization; COVID-19 (Disease); Community colleges--California, Southern

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Kay Davis

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