Competency-Based Education

Making (Internet) connections

By Kristen Huyck

Getting students connected to the Internet addresses an equity issue in California.

In California, MiraCosta College students without a computer or Internet access at home will soon be able to borrow new Dell laptops and mobile hotspots from the MiraCosta College Library at no cost.

Starting in the fall 2018 semester, registered MiraCosta College students can borrow one of 15 new Dell Inspirons for three days at a time. In addition, students without broadband Internet service at home will able to access the Internet through one of 10 mobile hotspots available for lending.

Smaller than a box of Lunchables, the mobile hotspots are being donated by Verizon and are operated through the college’s mobile data plan. Mobile hotspots can connect more than a dozen nearby devices such as cell phones, computers and tablets to the Internet by pulling signals from cell towers without the need for wiring.

“This is an equity issue,” said Michelle Ohnstad, MiraCosta College’s manager of library operations. “We are excited to ensure all students can access online resources from home that can help them succeed in school.”

Providing laptops and mobile hotspots for students without computers or Internet access is part of a larger effort in addressing inequities, an effort that also includes alleviating the impact of rising textbook costs through open educational resources (OER) and Zero Textbook Cost initiatives. Zero Textbook Cost courses utilize OER and other materials that are free for students, such as resources in the college library and freely accessed online materials. Internet access for all is vital if these initiatives are to succeed.

The moves come at a time when large numbers of community college students across the country are facing challenges in juggling their housing, food and educational expenses. A recent University of Wisconsin study found 42 percent of community college students surveyed nationwide were facing challenges in affording a healthy meal and 12 percent of community college students were homeless.

According to a recent survey by the California Emerging Technology Fund, 13 percent of California households do not have a broadband connection at home. Even for those who do have broadband service, a significant number can access the Internet solely through their smartphones, which lack the functionality to be an appropriate substitute for a laptop or desktop computer.

Twenty-five percent of households with an income of less than $20,000 annually do not have Internet access at home, and 31 percent of Spanish-speaking Latinos are without broadband, according to the survey.

Kristen Huyck

is the director of public and governmental relations, and  marketing and communications at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, California.