Tuesday, December 8, 2020

UIS Perspectives: Promoting equity through digital inclusion

The following is an excerpt from a column by Vickie Cook, UIS executive director of online, professional and engaged learning. This column appeared in The State Journal-Register on December 6, 2020.

The University of Illinois Springfield has worked with students and their families to help them find ways to connect to the internet since the pandemic began disrupting education in March. The issue of inequitable access for our students and their families became significantly apparent as students returned to their homes in urban, suburban and rural areas both in Illinois and beyond our state borders.

To promote equity across Illinois, UIS is committed to continue our support of digital inclusion. Digital inclusion is the ability of all individuals to access and use digital information regardless of geographical location or annual income. In 2019 about 63% of rural families reported access to broadband internet services, which was up from only 35% in 2007.

Unfortunately, too many digital deserts still exist in the United States. In 2017, it was predicted 260 million devices would be connected to the internet in our country by 2020. We know that the pandemic has created the necessity of many more devices to have reliable internet connectivity. 

Income disparity also significantly impacts the access to and use of digital technologies. Adults who earned less than $30,000 per year reported that only a third owned smartphones in 2019 and more than 40% reported not having broadband access. School districts around the state — including those in Sangamon County — have provided hotspots and as much help as possible to Pre-K through 12th-grade students.

University of Illinois Springfield has supported students with finding ways to connect, checking out devices, and helping access connections through community support. Schools, churches and local community groups have stepped up to help meet the needs of students trying to study from home by allowing WiFi access from their parking lots.

Low-income students enrolled in higher education may also be unable to keep up with their counterparts in various geographical or higher salary demographics, putting their college opportunities and future career aspirations at risk. UIS has committed to providing as much support as possible to our students. The UIS Information Technology Services staff provide troubleshooting and help desk support, loan out devices, and provide connections to resources that may help students find better connectivity in their areas.

Read the entire column online.