The internet has connected us and changed our lives in ways we never could have imagined 50 years ago. We do our shopping, maintain our connections with loved ones, access our entertainment, and receive our healthcare online.
But with this new connection comes a new way for folks to be left behind. Known as the digital divide, some experts even argue the existence of two splits: one between rural and urban and another along economic fault lines. Through policy efforts and scholarship programs, WGU is working to bridge these divides and bring online learning to all Americans.
Miles of Desert
The first barrier to broadband access is cost. Any household with an income of less than 30,000 a year faces significant challenges in affording broadband. Often, households have to choose between the internet or other necessities like food or utilities. As we know, a tool without access is essentially the same as no tool at all.
Second, an individual’s ability to afford high-speed and stable internet means nothing when there is no internet available to connect to. According to both the FCC and Congress, the way broadband has been mapped underestimates how many Americans are left without access. Broadband Now estimates that as many as 42 million people don’t have the actual availability of the internet.
As many as 42 million Americans don’t have access to reliable wireless internet.
In rural America, the areas that have yet to receive any access to the internet are known as the Last Mile. Over a third of rural individuals do not have access to an internet connection that meets the FCC’s broadband standards. The number is even higher on tribal lands.
These are likely the communities that come readily to mind upon hearing the words “digital divide”. However, high-density urban areas–while in many ways the opposite of their rural counterparts–are also underserved by internet providers. They’ve earned the distinction of Digital Deserts.
Many of the people who reside in the rural Last Mile or in the urban Digital Deserts are exactly the individuals who could most benefit from what Western Governors University has to offer. We cater to the non-traditional student: those who do not have the luxury of being able to follow a consistent, structured schedule. They are parents and working professionals. Many live miles away from a traditional college or university; it’s inconvenient, if not impossible, for them to sit in a classroom for hours on end, multiple times a week. They need education delivered at the time, place, and mode that is best for them.
They need the internet–and WGU is working hard to bring it to them.
Eliminating Barriers, Building Bridges
Through concerted public policy efforts, WGU is pushing state and federal lawmakers to make necessary investments in broadband infrastructure. As COVID raged, we partnered with the National Governors’ Association to moderate open, honest, and direct conversation about the divide without the intervention of internet providers and their financial interests.
Another method we are employing, one that impacts students directly, is our robust scholarship system. All of our scholarships are awarded based on financial need, ensuring our dollars go to the students who need it most. Among them is an online access scholarship specifically designed to cover the cost of broadband. At WGU, we are dedicated to making higher education accessible for as many people as possible. As an entirely online university, we know that this starts by expanding access to the internet. By partnering with WGU, you’re not only helping us push the cutting edge of online education, but bridge the digital divide. Download the WGU State Policy Playbook for actionable policy solutions and examples from other states.