The Chronicle of Higher Education newsletter recently included an article by Goldie Blumenstyk on rural college preparedness and broadband. They set out the problem…
A report on the state of rural education came out last week, asserting that some schools and places “face nothing less than an emergency in the education and well-being of children.”
Part of that emergency is the low level of “college readiness” in many of these rural districts, which enroll nearly one in five public-school students in the United States.
They had me at “emergency.”
And places broadband in the middle of the equation…
For matters like college preparation, one of the biggest obstacles that students still face is a lack of ready and reliable broadband access to the internet. In urban areas, that’s often an issue of cost. In rural areas, it’s often actual access as well. “It’s a huge deal right now,” said Klein, noting that for tests like the SAT and ACT, “a lot of the prep tools are online.”
As it happens, Klein spoke to me this week from San Diego, where he was attending the annual meeting of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, where he heard a presentation on a creative broadband-access project sponsored by the extension service at Oklahoma State University. It gave portable Wi-Fi-hotspot devices to local libraries, which then offered them to patrons for checkout.
OK, broadband is a start. The bigger question is: Even if rural students are college-ready, will there be college-level jobs waiting for them back home when they graduate? Clearly, colleges aren’t the only organizations that have a role here. But certainly they can play a part. They can do more to ensure that high-school students understand the ways a college education can be used in rural settings. As Klein noted, many agricultural industries today rely on people with knowledge of chemistry and GIS mapping skills, for example. “Those are some serious college-level tools,” he said.
I know there are university leaders out there right now pondering the question of how their institutions can be more relevant in their rural communities. (I had a long conversation on that topic with one of them just last week.) And Klein told me he hoped that the new report “excites some strategies.” So I expect this to be an issue that I and my colleagues continue to mine in the months to come.
I think a key here is helping students and local businesses understand the power of broadband. We don’t know what we don’t know and in a world where broadband is limited it can feel like a waste of time to learn how to make use of it. Why build demand when supply is already low? Unfortunately that does leave some areas behind. Whereas an influx of students who know the hometown and its industry return from school with some innovative ideas – that might build demand and a buzz for getting better broadband.