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Watch | This community college is using hot spots to shrink the digital divide for their students

The digital divide existed in North Carolina long before COVID-19 swept through the state. In Haywood County, 30% of households don’t have access to Wi-Fi. The pandemic elevated the issue of broadband, especially in schools and colleges. In order to meet the digital needs of its students, Haywood Community College lends out hot spots, laptops, and headphones to students who don’t have internet access at home.

“It’s been an issue for some time in Haywood County and it still is an issue in some areas,” said Bill Kinyon, the director of library and learning resources at Haywood Community College.

The hot spots are the newest addition to the library’s lending services. The college has a total of 30 hot spots, all of which were made possible by grant funding. Ten of the hot spots were purchased from a Building a New Digital Economy in NC (BAND-NC) grant from the Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State.

“In moving so many of our courses online through the pandemic, it certainly did highlight concerns and challenges for students being able to connect,” said Shelley White, President of Haywood Community College.

On March 11, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 into law. The bill provides significant funding for community colleges as well as for the state. A portion of these federal funds can be used for broadband infrastructure expansion. In order for hot spots to work, like the ones HCC is lending out, there needs to be existing service. Broadband infrastructure expansion would help with that.

“To think about digital inclusion, I believe we have a responsibility and we can help create a bridge for students to be able to narrow that gap and help them have access.”

– Shelley White, President of Haywood Community College

Prior to lending out hot spots, HCC extended their Wi-Fi range into parking lots on campus. During the beginning of the pandemic, this was critical for students who didn’t have access to broadband at home.

The future of broadband expansion in Haywood County is uncertain. Until then, HCC is committed to narrowing the digital divide for its students in any way they can within their means.

Alli Lindenberg

Alli Lindenberg is an executive fellow for EducationNC.