Digital equity is a big topic in K-12 schools, but small, rural colleges and universities have a bigger issue to tackle around technology. They have to enable students in rural colleges to enjoy the same resources and opportunities as students in urban institutions. In Anderson, S.C., Forrest College attracts students from rural areas as far as an hour’s drive away. Because of this distance, students that run into issues with transportation or sickness will miss out on class. Now, with distance learning solutions, they are able to attend class wherever they are. Students will simply Skype in and watch lectures live, or they may ask an instructor to record class sessions using lecture capture technology to be viewed later.
This is only one of the problems that is faced, and there are a number of challenges that rural colleges have, according to Randy Smith, president of the Rural Community College Alliance. They lack the large population base and resources of urban areas, which means less potential faculty members and fewer mass transit options. Faculty shortages, especially in fields such as nursing, welding and culinary arts, are a huge issue. “It takes a unique person with an advanced degree and teaching experience who wants to live in a rural area,” says Smith, who organization advocates for the country’s 589 rural and tribal colleges and their 3.4 million students.
Transportation is also a big issue for students living in areas with little or no public transportation. The majority of students will drive an average distance of 25 miles to get to class. Most rural colleges must provide fast internet connections on their campuses, and online for distance learning courses. This will allow students to the most learning opportunities and convenient access to education.
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