Low-income college-bound students lack access to digital devices

Low-income college-bound students lack access to digital devices

(Iowa) Many low-income and minority high school students only have access to one electronic device in their home—typically a cell phone—which creates challenges in completing homework and other required tasks for school, according to a new study.

Researchers at the ACT Center for Equity in Learning found that 85 percent of underserved students who took the ACT college entrance exam last year had access to just one devise at home.

 The center defined underserved students as those from low-income households or those who would be the first in their family to attend college, among other criteria.

Oftentimes, a smartphone was that one device students had access to.

The big problem with trying to accommodate contemporary assignments with a smartphone is that that not all class assignments that required online access were formatted to be read on mobile devices, and many students reported having unreliable Internet access at home, the study found.

“This survey shows us what (the digital divide) is doing to young people and how it could affect their learning,” Jim Larimore, chief officer for ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning, said in a statement.

The ACT is a standardized test used for college admissions, and is especially popular in the Midwest. The Center for Equity in Learning aims to help more underserved students get into college.

As state, district and school officials look to address inequity in education, Larimore said “focusing on expanding device and internet access, as well as ensuring students can access materials needed for school-related activities via mobile technology,” would be vital.

The gap between students who lack access to or knowledge of technology and those who don't–known as the digital divide–has become an issue as schools move to online assessments and textbooks, and as teachers incorporate technology into their daily curricula.

To address this issue, many districts have partnered with Internet providers to offer discounted service plans for disadvantaged families.

In states including Florida, California, Kansas and Iowa, school leaders have equipped busses with Wi-Fi service so students can do homework on their way to and from school. Many also park the buses in less affluent neighborhoods where students less likely to have an Internet connection can access it on evenings or weekends.

Others have found the money to provide every student with a laptop or other device that gives them to access online content at home and on campus.

The center, which surveyed 7,000 students who took the ACT test, found significant gaps in access to digital devices among students of varied racial and ethnic backgrounds and family income.

Among students who had access to only one device at home, nearly 25 percent of respondents reported their annual family income was below $36,000, while 6 percent of those with access to one device lived in households with annual income above $100,000.

Additionally, 20 percent of Black, Hispanic or Latino, and American Indian or Alaska Native students had access only to a smartphone, compared to only four percent of white students.

And just 3 percent of students whose parents had a college degree had access only to a smartphone—the majority had access to more than one device at home. That is compared to first-generation college students, who were15 percentage points more likely to only have access to a cell phone at home.

Authors of the report noted that because smartphones appeared to be the most available digital device among all surveyed groups, school leaders should ensure that teachers who assign electronic materials make sure that the items students need can be easily found, viewed and used on phones.

The survey also showed three out of every four students reported accessing the Internet via a monthly cellular data plan.

Researchers recommended educators be mindful of the amount of data a particular assignment might use, because a student can quickly go over their allotted data–especially when using a data plan shared with other family members.

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