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Press Releases

Digital Divide Facing Virginia's Students

by Elizabeth Liverman | Sep 16, 2020

Research finds students in rural and urban areas challenged by lack of broadband and computers

Originially posted 8/12/2020

Contact: Laura Osberger
(804) 387-5191 (mobile)

For immediate release

RICHMOND —The State Council on Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) today released a new analysis on the digital divide — the disparate access, affordability and use of high-speed internet and computers — facing students in Virginia. According to the analysis, over 200,000 K-12 students (14%) and over 60,000 college students (10%) in Virginia lack broadband subscriptions in the home. The analysis also found that 173,000 K-12 students (12%) and nearly 23,000 college students (4%) lack a laptop or desktop computer.

Map of students without broadband in Virginia

Other highlights:
  • Students living in rural areas are less likely to have broadband internet in the home compared to urban students. However, nearly 40% of all students without broadband live in or around Virginia's cities. Half of all students without devices live in urban areas.
  • Students in parts of Norfolk and Suffolk lack home broadband at higher rates than students in rural areas around Franklin, Henry, Patrick and Pittsylvania Counties. 
  • Black and Latinx students are twice as likely as white students not to have a computer in the home. These groups have broadband subscriptions at similar rates as white students.

“The research looked at whether students actually had broadband service in the home,” said Tom Allison, SCHEV’s senior associate for finance and innovation policy and author of the report, “rather than if it was available in their area. That is important because a household might have a dozen companies to choose from, but won’t benefit if they can’t afford it.” 

The research also looked at device ownership (laptops and desktops) because students still need computers to complete their studies even if they have broadband subscriptions. Students who only have access to a smartphone are less likely to complete their homework, conduct research, write papers and email their teachers.

“There’s a lot we don’t know about what college will look like in the fall, but one thing we do know is that much more of it will be conducted and experienced online,” Allison added. “It’s good that state policy is beginning to shift to looking not just at infrastructure, but affordability, devices and skills so that vulnerable students aren’t left further behind.” 

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The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia is the state’s coordinating agency for higher education. With The Virginia Plan for Higher Education, SCHEV is dedicated to making Virginia the best-educated state by 2030.


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