Date Approved


Embargo Period


Document Type


Degree Name

Ed.D. Doctor of Education


Educational Services and Leadership


College of Education


Monica Reid Kerrigan, Ed.D.

Committee Member 1

Lawrence Nespoli, D.Ed.

Committee Member 2

Steven Rose, Ed.D.


Community College, COVID-19, Online Support Services, Student Affairs, Student Services, Virtual Campus


Community college students--Services for


Community College Leadership | Higher Education


The purpose of this qualitative constructivist grounded theory research study was to understand and develop a theory about the experiences of community college students accessing online student support services, during the COVID-19 pandemic, when colleges were forced to close their in-person services. Interviews with seventeen students and a review of 57 email communications from the College yielded the data to construct a theory that extends the theories of sense of belonging and ethic of care to virtual student services – the Virtual Caring Campus Theory.

In the absence of a physical campus, colleges can create a virtual caring campus by incorporating three components of this theory: communication as a conduit of systemic organizational care; virtual student engagement and institutional agents as facilitators of belonging and care; and organizational caring through holistic student supports resulting in student empathy and altruism. The elements of this theory can provide a framework for providing virtual student services during future crises that force campus closures, to fully online learners who do not have access to a physical campus, or to campus students who prefer virtual services.