3 factors widen the digital divide in higher ed

Black and Latinx are twice as likely as white students not to have a home computer in the home

Access, affordability and skills are the three key elements of the digital device that leaves some college students unable to participate in online learning, according to a report by education leaders in Virginia.

One in five Virginia students—both K-12 and college—lack either high-speed internet or a home computer, according to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia research that sheds light on the challenges of the digital divide in other U.S. states.

More than 60,000 college students in Virginia, about 10% of the higher ed population, lack home broadband subscriptions while nearly 23,000 college students (4%) don’t have a home computer.

Virginia’s rural students are less likely to have home broadband internet than are urban students. However, nearly 40% of the students who lack broadband live in or around Virginia’s cities.

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Half of all students without devices live in urban areas.

And while Black and Latinx are twice as likely as white students not to have a home computer in the home, though all these groups have similar broadband access as they subscribe at similar rates.

The report points out that while wireless data plans help some students without broadband, fees and caps on bandwidth and fees make this an imperfect solution. Also, students may have a broadband connection, but not the proper device to complete their coursework.

This report didn’t consider smartphones a sufficient device for students to complete their homework, conduct research, write papers or email teachers.

Virginia’s flagship broadband initiative, Commonwealth Connect, has set a goal of universal broadband access. So far, about $44 million has been invested to connect over 108,000 mostly rural homes and businesses since 2017.

Virginia Community College System has received CARES Act funding for broadband projects, such as extending Wi-Fi to their parking garages.

UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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