WGU to Grant $1 Million in Online Access Scholarships to Close the Digital Divide Learning Gap
Scholarships will provide high-speed internet for hundreds of students in Minnesota
September 2, 2020
With many colleges and universities incorporating online learning into their curriculum as COVID-19 concerns continue to grow, those who do not have access to affordable, high-speed internet and want to further their education are often left behind. To help address this issue and increase access to education for adults across the state, online, nonprofit university Western Governors University (WGU) has announced it will grant high-speed internet access and provide devices to its students who are in need through its Online Access Scholarship program. The scholarship offering 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.
The Online Access Scholarship will cover internet installation and monthly access costs for the duration WGU students are active and in good standing. The scholarship will also provide recipients with a refurbished laptop, complete with a webcam. This opportunity is available for prospective high-need students who might not otherwise be able to get online to complete their education.
“Lack of high-speed internet access continues to be a barrier for many Minnesotans who are interested in earning their degree but need the flexibility online education offers,” said Dr. Angie Besendorfer, Regional Vice President of WGU, which has 1,361 students currently enrolled and more than 2,500 alumni in Minnesota. “COVID-19 has only highlighted this problem as millions of Americans who have lost employment make the difficult decision to cut WiFi from their monthly expenses, making it impossible for them to complete online studies. Making sure students have high-speed internet and reliable devices will not only provide them with access to high-quality education from the safety of the their homes but will also set them up for success in the long run as they work to further the skills needed to advance their careers and improve their lives.”
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates 21 million Americans lack access to high-speed internet. In Minnesota, 440,000 residents do not have access to wired high-speed internet and 125,000 people still don't have any wired internet providers with services available at their residence. In many cases when access to broadband is available, Americans are still unable to afford the monthly payments. The Pew Research Center reported last year 44 percent of adults in households with incomes below $30,000 do not have broadband.
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.
Beyond the Online Access Scholarship, WGU is working to solve the digital divide problem on several other fronts. 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’s mission is to provide working adults across the state with access to high-quality and affordable higher education opportunities, and advocating for reliable, high-speed internet access for all is a key part of this mission,” said Dr. Besendorfer. “So many individuals are missing out on learning opportunities because they do not have quality, high-speed internet access, and we are committed to changing this – not only through this scholarship offering – but by working with state and local legislators. Our hope is that every Minnesotan – regardless of income level or where they live – will soon have access to affordable broadband internet.”
For more information on WGU’s Online Access Scholarship, visit http://www.wgu.edu/access and or call (385) 428-3125.
Established in 1997 by 19 U.S. governors with a mission to expand access to high-quality, affordable higher education, online, nonprofit WGU now serves more than 121,000 students nationwide and has more than 166,000 graduates in all 50 states. Driving innovation as the nation’s leading competency-based university, WGU has been recognized by the White House, state leaders, employers, and students as a model that works in postsecondary education. In just 22 years, the university has become a leading influence in the development of innovative workforce-focused approaches to education. WGU is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, has been named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, and has been featured on NPR, NBC Nightly News, CNN, and in The New York Times. Learn more at www.wgu.edu.