Study finds growing rural internet access gaps for Michigan students
New research from Michigan State University has identified widening gaps in rural internet access for school-aged children.
The study found this gap emerged after the pandemic.
At the height of remote instruction during the 2020-2021 academic year, researchers found a 16% boost in rural internet access.
This increase was attributed to COVID-era funding that enabled schools to purchase Wi-Fi hotspots for students to take home.
With the return to in-person instruction, researchers have found a reversal in this internet access trend — this academic year alone has demonstrated a 2.4% drop.
"Being able to identify students who don't have access, who are losing access and providing them with something like a hotspot might be one solution," said Keith Hampton, the study's lead author.
Hampton said the negative impacts of this reversal are immediate, and include reduced academic performance and can influence a kid's interest in post-secondary education or careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
“Given the growth of jobs in STEM fields, the higher income associated with STEM careers and the potential benefit of the STEM-related industry for the economic development in rural areas, fostering interest in STEM is key,” said Gabriel Hales, a co-author of the study, in a press release.
Hampton added that longer-term solutions such as changes in broadband policy or infrastructure will take more time.
"We need some way of filling that gap in home internet access so rural students don't again start to experience these major deficits as a result of gaps in access," said Hampton.
That's why Hampton is hoping for more immediate measures to reduce the rural home internet divide for students.