NASHVILLE – Western Governors University (WGU), an online nonprofit university, will grant high-speed internet access and provide devices to students who need and can’t afford them through its Online Access Scholarship program. The scholarship program is part of a broader WGU 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.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen the importance of reliable digital access for many aspects of life from telehealth to education,” said Kimberly Estep, Ph.D., chancellor of WGU Tennessee. “At the same time, more than 40 million Americans have become unemployed, often forcing them to eliminate Wi-Fi from their household budgets. This program will enable students to study and learn from the safety of their homes, removing the barriers to learning opportunities.”
According to BroadbandNow, a consumer advocacy organization that aggregates data and statistics relative to internet access in the United States, nearly half-a-million Tennesseans do not have access to a wired internet connection capable of at least 25 Mbps. Further, of Tennesseans, 40.5% do not have access to a low-priced internet plan ($60/month or less), 27% do not have an internet subscription at all, and 274,000 have no providers offering internet to their residences.
Covid-19 has compounded the problem—creating economic hardships for millions of Americans while also making online access more important than ever. The pandemic has driven double digit growth for broadband in the span of a couple of weeks. A recent report by OpenVault found that average broadband consumption at the end of the first quarter in 2020 rose to 402.5GB per user, an increase of 47 percent compared to the first quarter of 2019’s average of 273.5 GB.
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.
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.
“WGU Tennessee is committed to closing the digital divide learning gap by focusing on long-term and short-term solutions,” said Estep. “We are providing scholarships while also advocating for a nation-wide infrastructure plan that will make broadband available to every Tennessean, regardless of income or geography.”
More information on WGU’s Online Access Scholarship is available at www.wgu.edu/access and by calling (385) 428-3125.