DURHAM — WGU North Carolina, an affiliate of national online nonprofit Western Governors University (WGU), has announced a new Online Access Scholarship program that will grant high-speed internet access and provide devices to WGU students who need and can’t afford them. WGU’s $1 million national scholarship program is part of a broader initiative aimed at working with policy makers and private industry to close the digital divide by providing more Americans access to reliable internet in their homes.
“Until federal, state, and local governments figure out a way to finance a massive infusion of broadband infrastructure into our cities and small towns, scholarships like this one can help individuals secure reliable internet access to further their education,” said former North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue, who also sits on WGU North Carolina’s Board of Advisors.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates 21 million Americans lack access to high-speed internet. According to the N.C. Department of Information Technology’s Broadband Infrastructure Office, about 95 percent of households in North Carolina have access to broadband Internet of varying speeds. However, large sections of rural North Carolina, including some of the state’s most low-income areas, are left out. According to BroadbandNow, only 46.8 percent of the state’s population has access to what is considered a low-priced internet plan.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of reliable digital access for many aspects of life, including education,” said WGU North Carolina Chancellor Catherine Truitt. “Thousands of North Carolinians have had to eliminate Wi-Fi from their household budgets due to loss of jobs or income. This program, which will enable students to study and learn from the safety of their homes, is one of the ways we are removing the barriers to learning opportunities.”
For those whose jobs have been impacted by the pandemic, returning to school to prepare for new career opportunities is critical. However, the loss of income may make it impossible to pay for broadband services students need to return to school. WGU’s Online Access Scholarship will support this need by allowing students to learn from the safety of their homes.
Charlotte resident and WGU North Carolina student Fallon T. has experienced much hardship due to the pandemic. She lost her fiancé on Easter Sunday due to COVID-related issues—in addition to five immediate and extended family members—and then her employer rolled back her work hours to two days a week. Fallon was able to access emergency aid funding through WGU to support with non-tuition expenses, such as internet service, and the Online Access Scholarship will help fill that gap for many students like her.
“This resulted in me falling behind on rent, car expenses, and utilities,” she said. “With everything going on, I haven’t been able to really log into class because of disconnected internet service in my home.” After receiving aid from WGU, she wrote, “I would personally like to take the time to thank everyone who sponsored the program. During such uncertain times, this helps to ease a little worry in many people’s lives.”
WGU is attacking the digital divide problem on several fronts beyond the Online Access Scholarship. These include a partnership with the National Governors Association to identify problems, resources, and solutions; advocating for policies that improve and expand the nation’s digital infrastructure; and coalition-building efforts that will help raise awareness of broadband inequities.
More information on WGU’s Online Access Scholarship is available at www.wgu.edu/access or by calling 385-428-3125.