Sheila Martin is Vice President for Economic Development and Community Engagement at APLU.
Public and land-grant universities are committed to helping rural communities thrive. One of the many ways they are doing this is by helping rural residents and businesses gain access to – and make productive use of – high-speed internet and the digital tools such connectivity enables. There is no doubt that these services have become essential to educational, economic, and social opportunity, especially in rural areas. Yet many communities in rural America still lack access to these powerful resources.
Public and land-grant universities are working with rural communities across North America to gather the information and resources necessary to gain access to the broadband internet and digital tools that the rest of us take for granted. APLU released a report last year detailing the steps some institutions are taking to fill the E-Connectivity gap.
But access is just the first step. Residents new to broadband need an understanding of how to use the internet and digital tools to expand their opportunities while staying safe. They need training and they need content relevant to their lives.
Public and land-grant universities are addressing this need. Some universities, such as Michigan State, Northern Illinois, the University of Illinois, and Ohio State University are helping communities gain grants from the federal government to install and operate the infrastructure needed for internet service. Others such as Oklahoma State University, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and the University of Texas at Austin are providing and assessing the effectiveness of mobile hotspot programs that offer citizens the opportunity to checkout mobile hotspots from public libraries. Others such as Mississippi State University are helping companies expand their business through the internet, and many universities, including Washington State University, are working with youth and the elderly on digital skills training through their Cooperative Extension services.
These are just a few of the efforts underway by public and land-grant universities to bring greater prosperity and quality of life to rural communities. For more information, check out APLU’s recent summary of these programs.