Error 404: Researchers show how slow internet is leaving rural students behind

National and World

The first-of-its-kind report finds that these educational setbacks can have a significant impact on academic success and career opportunities

EAST LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Poor or limited internet access in rural homes can cause students to fall behind, according to a new report from Michigan State University’s Quello Center.

The first-of-its-kind report finds that these educational setbacks can have a significant impact on academic success, college admissions and career opportunities.

“What we found really underscores the importance of home internet and digital skills for students,” said doctoral student and contributor to the report Craig Robertson. “Lack of access and lower skills are related to a range of negative outcomes. These have potential consequences for students’ lives now and down the road.”

The report is based on data collected from 15 Michigan school districts covering Mecosta County, St. Clair County and the eastern region of the Upper Peninsula, spanning from the Tahquamenon area to St. Ignace and Sault Ste. Marie.

Students with high-speed Internet access at home are more likely to seek help from their teachers and peers.

Researchers collected data and surveys from 3,300 students across 173 classrooms. Only 47% of students who live in rural areas have high-speed Internet access at home compared to 77% of those in suburban areas. Of those who do not have home access, 36% live in a home with no computer and 58% live on a farm or other rural setting.

“We were surprised with how powerful the findings were,” said Keith Hampton, associate director for research at the Quello Center and a professor in MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences. “Students without Internet access and those who depend on a cell phone for their only access are half a grade point below those with fast access. This gap has ripple effects that may last an entire life.”

Students with no high-speed Internet access at home are also less likely to plan to attend a college or university. On the other hand, students with Internet access have substantially higher digital skills, which are a strong predictor of performance on standardized tests.

Digital skills serve a key role in many sectors of the economy and are necessary for careers across the workforce. In rural areas, gaps in broadband access could lead to economic impacts on entire communities.

64% of students who do not have Internet access at home sometimes or often leave homework unfinished.

“It is wrong to assume that since most have a smartphone, students have sufficient access,” said Quello Center Director Johannes Bauer who also contributed to the report. “It turns out that this is not the case. Those who have only cell phone access perform as poorly as those who have no Internet access at all.”

Because of slow connectivity or caps on data use, students who could only get Internet access on cell phones struggled to use resources available on the Internet.

“Those who have better broadband access at home also have higher digital skills overall,” Hampton said. “Those digital skills then position individuals better for lifelong careers. They are better positioned for post-secondary education and are more intent on entering STEM careers, which often pay higher salaries.”

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