LITTLE ROCK — Western Governors University, an online, nonprofit and accredited university, is working to close the digital divide by providing Online Access Scholarships to qualified students to help pay for high-speed internet access and technology. Thousands of dollars have been awarded to students and across the U.S. with many more scholarships still available for Arkansans. The scholarship is part of WGU’s broader national initiative aimed at working with policymakers and private industry to give more Americans access to reliable internet in their homes.

According to U.S. Census records, more than 30 percent of Arkansas households report that they do not have high-speed internet access. Nearly 16 percent of Arkansans do not own a computer. These numbers are highest among rural and low-income populations. A national Pew Research Center report released in May states that 44 percent of adults in households with annual in comes below $30,000 don’t have broadband, 29 percent don’t own a smartphone, and 46 percent don’t have a traditional computer.

“At WGU, our mission is to expand access and success to postsecondary opportunities by providing high-quality, affordable competency-based education,” said Linda Battles, acting regional vice president, South Region. “Many low-income and rural students lack access to the internet and/or technology, which can drastically hinder their ability to pursue an online credential. This scholarship removes these barriers.”

WGU scholarship recipient Petrina Love has seen firsthand that online education increases opportunities for those who complete their degree program. She has overcome career and personal obstacles to earn a degree in nursing. The Online Access Scholarship has supported her access to broadband services.

While pursuing her BSN, Love is working and parenting full-time. As the sole wage earner in her family due to furloughs, financial constraints could mean putting her education on hold and losing internet access. “I love being a nurse, and being able to finish school would allow me to work in other areas,” she said. “I will continue to get where I am destined, and this scholarship helps me stay on track to become an RN and continue with my master’s degree.”

WGU is attacking the digital divide problem on several fronts beyond the Online Access Scholarship. 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.

“An analysis from Microsoft suggests that the number of individuals without broadband internet access could be over 163 million,” said Battles. “While WGU is committed to removing this barrier for many students with long- and short-term solutions, we can’t accomplish this alone. We need help from community partners and private industry to advocate for the expansion of infrastructure that makes broadband available to everyone.”

More information about WGU’s Online Access Scholarship is available at wgu.edu/access or by calling 385-428-3125.

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