Nebraska students have advantage in remote learning

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Under the “when life hands you lemons” category, consider this: Nebraska students have an advantage when it comes to remote learning.

Nobody wants to return to those miserable days last year when students were forced to huddle around a screen at home on a Zoom call with their teachers, but if that day ever comes again, they’ll be enjoying better lemonade than their cousins in, say, New Mexico, where five times fewer students have access to broadband internet.

According to satelliteinternet.com, which compared the standard classroom size of each state from the Public School Review with the percentage of students without at-home computer access or broadband subscriptions from the U.S. Census Bureau to come up with rankings, Cornhusker kids have a leg up.

In Nebraska, only 3.5% of students under 18 do not have the internet access needed for remote learning, the best in the nation. In New Mexico, 15.2% don’t have a computer and a broadband subscription, the worst ranking. Adjoining states include 4% in Colorado, 7.6% in Kansas, 6.9% in Iowa, and 9% in South Dakota.

Nationally, 7.3% of students under 18 are without a broadband subscription, and 3.3% don’t have a computer at home, more than 5.4 million nationwide.

There’s more to it than simple available broadband service, of course. Lower family income often translates into less broadband access, and schools’ and parents’ ability and willingness to facilitate demote learning varies widely.

Unfortunately, as part of the “homework gap,” a term counted by FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel:

— 47% of students who have no home internet access, or access only through a cell phone, complete a post-secondary program, compared to 65% of those with fast home internet.

— Students with lower-than-average digital skills are 29% less likely to plan to complete a college or university program.

— Kids without home internet access also generally have lower grades and test scores, demonstrate less competency in digital skills, and are less likely to plan to attend post-secondary schooling, even after accounting for socioeconomic differences.

Some lawmakers, notably Sen. Deb Fischer, have drawn criticism for support of a federal infrastructure bill that included funding for expanded rural broadband, and concern about the long-term effects of the ballooning federal deficit is too often ignored.

But the improved ability to provide remote learning was one of the unexpected results of the pandemic, one that has great potential for areas with declining populations, like rural Nebraska.

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