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WGU scholarships aim to bridge digital divide

Updated September 18, 2020 - 8:50 am

Western Governors University will grant high-speed internet access and provide devices to new and current WGU 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.

“Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Nevada has one of the highest unemployment rates and the Las Vegas metro was hit harder than most of the country, which has highlighted the importance of reliable digital access for many aspects of life from telehealth to education, among other areas,” WGU Regional Vice President Rick Benbow said. “With so many residents now unemployed, this has forced many to eliminate Wi-Fi from their household budgets, making it impossible to study and learn online at a time when adding new skills is more important than ever.

“It’s also at a time when many students’ children need to participate in remote education as well. This program, which will enable these students and their families to study and learn from the safety of their homes, is one of the ways we are removing the barriers to learning opportunities.”

According to the Federal Communications Commission, approximately 7.3 percent of Nevada residents lack broadband access, compared to 6.5 percent of residents across the nation, and many more are unable to afford broadband service. In one of Nevada’s 17 counties, at least half of all residents lack broadband access.

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% compared to the first quarter of 2019’s average of 273.5 GB.

For those whose jobs have been affected by the pandemic, returning to school to prepare for new career opportunities is critical. The loss of income, however, might 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.

“The digital divide learning gap is a major issue, and WGU is committed to removing this barrier for many students with long-term and short-term solutions,” WGU President Scott Pulsipher said. “We are providing scholarships while also advocating for a nationwide infrastructure plan that will make broadband available to every American, regardless of income or geography. We invite like-minded partners from education and noneducation sectors alike to join us in the effort.”

More information on WGU’s Online Access Scholarship is available at www.wgu.edu/access and by calling 385-428-3125.

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