A wi-fi sign on a country road illustrates the idea that internet access for rural students is challenging.

Spotty internet access for rural students limits achievement


A study shows how strong and reliable internet access for rural students can make or break learning

A higher percentage of rural students reports access to only one device at home compared to students in non-rural areas (24 percent versus 11 percent). Given the potential benefits of one-to-one device initiatives, the lack of access to devices could create additional disparities in access to more personalized learning opportunities.

“Too often students in rural areas are overlooked when it comes to education policy reform, despite the fact that nearly one in five students in U.S. public elementary and secondary schools live in a rural area,” says Jim Larimore, chief officer for ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning. We need to do a better job of closing these equity gaps to ensure that we’re providing all students with the opportunity to be successful.”

Larimore points out that the majority of rural students in nearly half of U.S. states are from low-income families, and they generally earn lower scores on standardized high school assessments, attend college at lower rates and, as highlighted in the report, have less access to rigorous coursework than do students from non-rural areas.

Policy recommendations to help rural students

The report recommends targeting rural students’ access to technology- both in school and at home – as a way to support their learning and enable access to advanced coursework and personalized learning opportunities.

ACT recommends the following to improve internet access for rural students and overall academic opportunities:

1. Improve access to technology both at school and home. The E-rate program must continue to fund access to affordable broadband internet access for rural students and to rural areas, and completely close the gap between schools with broadband access and those without

2. Increase opportunities for rigorous course taking. Students must have access to and be encouraged to take a minimum core curriculum of four years of English, three years of mathematics, three years of science, and three years of social studies. The survey found that students in rural areas were less likely than non-rural students to complete (or plan to complete) the ACT-recommended core curriculum (76 percent versus 81 percent).

3. Expand opportunities for personalized learning. Students need the opportunity to receive personalized, student-centered learning. In the case of the rural students in the survey, personalized learning could help provide greater access to advanced coursework.

Laura Ascione

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