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Technology's Impact on Learning

Link between Low Broadband Access and Lower Degree Achievement Noted in Florida

A lack of widely available broadband is correlated to a smaller percentage of residents with college degrees or certificates. That's the suggestion of a presentation made recently in Florida to the Higher Education Coordinating Council. The gap will hold back the state from achieving its goal of having 55 percent of its working-age population obtain a degree or professional certificate by 2025, according to Ed Moore, president of Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida. Moore's organization has 30 non-profit institutions that deliver undergraduate, graduate, first-time professional and continuing education programs throughout the state, many of which are online.

For the purposes of his argument, Moore used the Federal Communications Commission's definition for internet access speed — 25 Mbps for download and 3 Mbps for upload — as the minimum required for residential access to distance learning programs. As Moore put it, almost 700,000 Floridians are "stranded on the wrong side of a distance learning divide." The FCC estimates, Moore added, that a tenth of all Americans — 34 million people — lack access to this benchmark service level.

But the biggest identifiable shortage occurs in rural areas, where 39 percent of people across the country lack broadband. In Florida, the more isolated rural counties — those away from large metropolitan areas — have fewer people with fast internet access and "are also more likely to have lower educational attainment and lower income levels per capita," Moore stated.

The 13 "trailing" counties with the least amount of internet access, ranging from Madison County, where 41 percent of residents have no access, to Dixie County, where 99 percent lack access, show a smaller percentage of residents with college degrees or certificates (from 12 percent to 27 percent). In the 19 counties where the total without internet access is zero percent, the share of residents with degrees or certificates runs from a low of 16 percent to a high of 54 percent.

Moore explained that while his organization's member schools "now offer more than 590 fully online degree and certificate programs," the access to those programs "should not be driven by where one lives." Limits on broadband access, he said, "slams the door on accessibility. You cannot get ahead if you cannot get online."

Reporting by the Gainesville Sun quoted Marshall Criser, chancellor of the state university system, who advised education leaders to work "collaboratively" with the business community on developing policy recommendations for expanding broadband services. Criser, a former president of AT&T in Florida, called the gap a "chicken or egg" kind of problem, pointing out that "there were sound reasons for broadband development to follow population densities."

According to reporter Lloyd Dunkelberger, the council may "invite the companies that provide broadband access and infrastructure to talk about the issue."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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