Research Questions: (1) How does perceived social support during COVID-19 relate to university students’ learning availability? (2) Is this relationship mediated by students’ coping and COVID-19 concerns? (3) How are these relationships moderated by country (U.S. or Israel)?
Methods: As country contextual factors—especially in times of crisis—can influence the relationships among social support, coping, concerns, and learning availability, we leveraged novel survey data from four universities across the United States and Israel. There was a total of 5,814 student participants in our final sample --- 1,391 from the United States and 4,423 from Israel. Using multi-group structural equation modeling, we explored (a) how the relationship between emotional support received during COVID-19 emotional availability for learning is mediated through coping and a latent construct of COVID-19 concerns and (b) how a university’s country can moderate these relationships.
Results: We found that students receiving more social support demonstrated increased emotional availability for learning, and part of this relationship occurred through greater rates of coping and fewer concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. These concerns included both personal factors (e.g., contracting the virus) as well as societal and global factors (e.g., overall increases in infections or global spread). Furthermore, tests of indirect effects indicated that coping and COVID-19 concerns mediated the relationship between social support and emotional unavailability for learning. Moreover, when considering differences across countries, we noticed that despite having similar amounts of social supports from their respective surroundings, Israeli students, on average, reported coping better with the COVID-19 pandemic than U.S. students. Additionally, the relationship between social support and COVID-19 coping, as well as between COVID-19 concerns and unavailability for learning, was stronger for students in Israel, while the relationship between COVID-19 coping and COVID-19 concerns was stronger for students in the United States.
Conclusions and Implications: Our survey quantifies how social support influences learning availability for students at four universities across two countries. Universities should consider innovative strategies to bolster social support, coping mechanisms, and emotional availability for learning – even when students are remote. As demonstrated in the literature, universities should also keep in mind the disparate impacts of the pandemic by race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and age, and determine how to prioritize these groups in the services they offer before, during, and after times of crisis.