FCC’s plans a potential boon for community colleges

Community colleges with broadband access could serve not only students, but community members too.
Community colleges with broadband access could serve both students and community members.

Community college decision makers were encouraged by the Federal Communication Commission’s inclusion in its National Broadband Plan of robust high-speed internet networks on two-year campuses, which soon could be a central location for locals who don’t have broadband internet at home.

The FCC’s detailed strategy, released March 16, describes community colleges as “anchor institutions” that could support ultra high-speed networks and make modern web connections available to towns and cities that still rely on low-bandwidth options that don’t support online video and a host of other common technologies.

The FCC asked Congress for enough funding to bring high-speed internet to all public community colleges and maintain the networks. The National Broadband Plan seeks to bring broadband internet to 100 million U.S. homes by 2020. Fourteen million Americans don’t have broadband access, even if they want a high-speed option, according to federal estimates.

Only 16 percent of the 3,439 community college campuses in the U.S. have access to the kind of high-speed internet service that is available at more than 90 percent of research universities, according to the FCC.

With better web connections, according to the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, community colleges can “offer powerful learning opportunities to even broader audiences,” including K-12 teachers specializing in technology or online learning strategies and nontraditional students who rely on web-based courses.

“Community colleges with broadband connectivity and quality online instructional programs serve as learning and career development centers for the K-12 community and for local citizens,” according to the FCC’s plan. “Community colleges also play integral roles in educating Americans about math and science and preparing students for their future careers as teachers.”

Forty percent of teachers have taken a math and science class at a community college, according to federal estimates.

Community college advocates said the FCC’s request for broadband funding on two-year campuses wasn’t surprising after the Obama administration’s early commitment to improving public higher education.

“[Community colleges] are hubs for the community,” said Jim Hermes, director of government relations for the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), an organization that has worked with the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition to support technology funding for two-year colleges. “That’s always been a big function for community colleges.”

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced in January a competition for $2.6 billion in grants that would boost broadband infrastructure at “anchor institutions” such as community colleges. That money is part of $7 billion set aside in last year’s economic stimulus package to expand high-speed web access nationwide, especially in rural areas where the service is not available at all.

The January grant announcement included $150 million for “new or improved public computer centers” on community college campuses.

Despite the broadband disparity among community colleges when compared to their four-year counterparts, many two-year schools support state-of-the-art educational technology and reliable high-speed internet conducive to streaming video and other high-bandwidth technologies.

Laura Ascione
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