FCC’s plans a potential boon for community colleges

Delaware Technical Community College (DTCC) is among two-year colleges routinely recognized for its high technology standards, and campus officials said the school’s broadband internet connection attracts students and local residents who don’t have a high-speed option in their homes.

“That’s our role; that’s why we’re called a community college, because we serve those needs,” said Lisa Hastings-Sheppard, a spokeswoman for DTCC, where Jill Biden, Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, worked as an English instructor from 1993-2008. “I think that’s the reason for our success.”

Celeste Schwartz, vice president of IT at Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) in Blue Bell, Pa., said her college—which uses the high-speed Internet 2 network—has an array of technology options that schools in rural areas lack.

“I see all kinds of advantages at our college that not all community colleges have,” she said, adding that a “divide” has developed between community colleges with broadband and those with spotty web connections. “I can think of two dozen states where, aside from their major cities, it would be very difficult for them to do video conferencing.”

MCCC’s instructors, for example, can observe education students as they interact in elementary schools as part of their curriculum. This is only possible, Schwartz said, because the college has access to a cutting-edge fiber network that lets students and their instructors interact via video. The college has also hosted the Philadelphia Orchestra through the internet and video chatted with U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq.

“It allows colleges to bring a new dimension to their institution,” she said. “It totally and completely changes the dynamics of teaching and learning.”

Hastings-Sheppard from DTCC said national broadband statistics can paint a distorted picture of internet and technology on community college campuses. DTCC’s nursing and health students, for example, use a 3D software program that allowed digital dissection of human tissue.

DTCC was the first college to use the software. Harvard University was the second.

“These are things that people don’t know about,” she said.

Those who support the FCC’s broadband plan said a request for more funds from Congress was very different than naming a price and securing money for an expensive initiative to bring high-speed web connections to every community college.

“We’re happy to see this focus on community colleges and … we’re eager to see what the results of all this attention will be as far as getting better [broadband] service,” Hermes said. “But we’re definitely not feeling overlooked right now.”

Laura Ascione

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