Broadband Disparity: Equity Issue in California’s Central Valley — Adequate Access Is Essential to Increasing Degree Attainment Rates
(May 6, 2021) — After the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, Fresno Pacific University student Verónica Méndez García returned to the Central Valley grape fields to help her family earn income.
But she faced a new challenge: finding adequate broadband access as she took breaks from picking and packing grapes to pull out her laptop at the field lunch table so she could Zoom into three classes. Sometimes with no success.
Verónica’s story is one of three student stories captured in a video commissioned by the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium (CVHEC): “Pursuing the Last Mile: Broadband in the Central Valley.”
The intent of the three-minute video is to highlight the impact the lack of reliable broadband has had on Central California’s college students during the pandemic with the hope that broadband infrastructure dollars reach the Central Valley, said Dr. Ben Duran, CVHEC executive director.
“When the pandemic hit, our educational institutions pivoted to remote-learning like the rest of the country,” Duran said in CVHEC’s monthly newsletter message announcing the video’s release today. “However, this massive undertaking exposed an underlying reality of broadband disparity – an inability to access reliable internet.”
“COVID restrictions forced us all to face the reality of Central Valley students’ struggles to reach academic goals and work through remote learning with foiled attempts due to limited or no access to broadband in parts of our region.”
He said broadband disparity hits at the heart of what CVHEC is attempting to accomplish – improve the Central Valley’s degree attainment rates – and is an equity issue that must be addressed.
“Pre-pandemic, the Central Valley already suffered inequitable access to postsecondary education,” Duran said, noting that the Central Valley has nearly half of the Bay Area’s rate for bachelor degree attainment. “Not having adequate access to broadband makes the goal of increasing degree attainment rates even more difficult.”
A COVID-impact survey of graduating high school students and continuing college students conducted by the California Student Aid Commission, released July 2020, shows that students’ concerns over online learning during the pandemic caused them to change their academic plans.
Another COVID-impact survey of community college students conducted in May 2020 by the RP Group shows that African American/Black, Hispanic/Latina/o/x and American Indian students disproportionately lacked access to computers and the internet.
CVHEC’s hope is that “the California Legislature and the federal government consider the Central Valley story in building the last mile of broadband infrastructure that has been lacking far too long and is creating even greater disparity.”
In highlighting three students’ personal struggles, the video – produced by Fenceline Media Group of Fresno – shines a light on the reality of the Central Valley’s broadband disparity.
Francis Reyes, a California Health Science University pharmacy student who already faced limited or no Wi-Fi in her home, told how she lost access to her usual hot spots like coffee shops and libraries when the pandemic shut everything down.
Reedley College student Stephen Kodur recounted couch-surfing, depending on the campus food pantry, and transportation issues in search of Wi-Fi access and how this stress impacted his mental health.
For Verónica, who will be FPU’s student body president next fall, the quest for a hot spot in the Valley’s grape vineyards challenged her ability to pursue her education.
Duran said Central Valley students shouldn’t have to prove themselves worthy of education by showing how creative they can be to secure some form of internet access.
“Reliable broadband should be afforded to all California students — even those who are attempting to gain access from our rural agricultural fields,” he said. “California needs reliable broadband infrastructure to ensure all Californians are able to pursue their educational pursuits.”
• Recovery with Equity Task Force report – Central Valley’s rate for bachelor degree attainment (p.51-57).
• California Student Aid Commission COVID-impact survey (July 2020) – graduating high school students and continuing college students (p. 4-5).
• RP Group COVID-impact survey (May 2020) — African American/Black, Hispanic/Latina/o/x and American Indian students access to computers and the internet (p. 11).
The CVHEC video may be viewed at: bit.ly/CVHECvid-PursuingLastMile0521
CVHEC You Tube version: bit.ly/CVHECyt-PursuingLastMile0521
This CVHEC press release is available online: bit.ly/CVHECrel-BroadbandLastMile050621
The Central Valley Higher Education Consortium (CVHEC) is a non-profit organization formed in 2002 representing 29 higher education institutions in the Central Valley’s 9-county region from San Joaquin to Kern County. Our board of directors are the presidents and chancellors of these institutions representing community colleges, California State University, University of California and private independent universities. Our central mission is to improve the Central Valley’s degree attainment rates.
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