AUSTIN — Western Governors University (WGU) an online, nonprofit university announced today that it 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, which will support thousands of students in the U.S., is part of a broader WGU initiative aimed at working with policymakers and private industry to close the digital divide by giving more Americans access to reliable internet in their homes.
“At WGU Texas, our mission is to expand access to postsecondary opportunities by providing high-quality online education,” said Linda Battles, acting Regional Vice President. “Many low-income and rural students lack access to the Internet. This scholarship program removes barriers to learning opportunities by providing internet access to students pursuing an online credential.”
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), more than 21 million Americans lack access to high-speed internet, and an estimated 1.8 million Texans, most of them in rural areas, don’t have high-speed internet access. And the Pew Research Center report released in May states that 44 percent of adults in households with incomes below $30,000 don’t have broadband, 29 percent don’t own a smartphone and 46 percent don’t have a traditional computer.
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 often critical. However, the loss of income may make it impossible to pay for broadband services students need to return to school.
WGU Texas students and scholarship recipients Ashley Lemley, Petrina Love, and Rokeisha Turner have seen firsthand that improving access to education increases opportunities for those who complete our programs. Each has overcome career and personal obstacles and are earning degrees in nursing, marketing management, and business administration. The Online Access Scholarship supports their need for broadband services, enabling them to learn from the safety of their homes.
While pursuing her BSN, Petrina Love is working and parenting full-time. As the sole wage earner in her family due to furloughs, financial constraints could mean putting her education on hold and losing internet access. “I love being a nurse and being able to finish school would allow me to work in other areas,” she said. “I will continue to get where I am destined, and this scholarship helps me stay on track to become an RN and continue with my master's degree.”
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.
“An analysis from Microsoft suggests that the number of individuals without broadband internet access could be over 163 million,” said Battles. “While WGU is committed to removing this barrier for many students with long- and short-term solutions, we can’t accomplish this alone. We need help from community partners to advocate for the expansion of infrastructure that makes broadband available to everyone.”
More information on WGU’s Online Access Scholarship is available at wgu.edu/access or by calling (385) 428-3125.