Majority of HBCUs ‘Keeping Pace’ with Technology
many still face major digital divide issues, NAFEO Report saysWASHINGTON
The majority of Black colleges and universities are more wired than originally assumed, according to a recent study released by the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education.
Despite the fact that the majority of HBCUs have networks that connect to the Internet and the World Wide Web, most HBCU students do not have ready access to the campus networks.
NAFEO’s researchers found that computer networks in a majority of the colleges are concentrated in administrative buildings rather than classrooms and student dormitories. In addition, fewer than 25 percent of HBCU students bring their own computers to school, compared to nearly 50 percent of non-HBCU students.
“In other words, more than 75 percent of HBCU students, or more than 260,000 students, must rely on institutionally provided facilities to gain access to the Internet and World Wide Web,” says Dr. Wilma Roscoe, vice president of NAFEO. “This is a serious Digital Divide issue for HBCUs at a time when K-12 school districts are providing children with ready access to the Internet and laptop computers.”
Roscoe, together with other NAFEO representatives, U.S.
Department of Commerce
officials and members of the
Congressional Black Caucus, released the findings here last month. The year-long study — known as TAS, or the Technology Assessment Study — was conducted to assess the computing resources, networking and connectivity of 80 of the 118
HBCUs that responded to the NAFEO survey.
Officially titled Historically Black Colleges and Universities: An Assessment of Networking and Connectivity, the study was funded by a $90,000 grant from the Commerce Department.
In addition to HBCU student access to networking and computing resources, the study highlighted additional areas of concern:
l HBCUusage of higher bandwidth technologies for accessing the Internet, World Wide Web and other networks;
l Faculty utilization of Web-based resources in the classroom;
l Awareness of the importance of network security; and
l Utilization and maintenance of technology strategic plans.
The researchers say that many HBCUs will have to focus institutional resources to address several areas of weakness if they want to make a “digital leap into the 21st century,” including:
l Improvement of high-speed connectivity rates;
l Dramatic improvement of student to computer ownership ratios;
l Improvement of the strategic planning process; and
l Willingness to incorporate innovative technologies into campus networks.
“While it is reassuring to find that HBCUs are not in the ‘dark ages’ of networking and connectivity by providing access for students and faculty to the Internet and World Wide Web, the TAS team is concerned that the strategies to upgrade and improve network systems are generally weak,” states the study. Additionally, it is critical for HBCUs to continually upgrade networking and connectivity systems if they are to continue to cross the Digital Divide instead of falling victim to it, according to the report.
“The study serves as an important blueprint for support from the private sector and nonprofit organizations for digital inclusion of a community of over 350,000
students and future leaders attending these institutions of higher education,” says Norman Y. Mineta, U.S. Secretary of Commerce.
The study also found that there appears to be greater technology gaps in connectivity, equipment, student access and overall computing resources at small, rural institutions. In addition, 9 percent of urban HBCUs indicated that 25 percent to 49 percent of their students have their own computers, while only 5 percent of the rural institutions indicated student ownership in the 25 percent to 49 percent range. Another 7 percent of the respondents indicated that they could not estimate student ownership.
According to the study, most HBCUs appear to connect to the Internet and the Web using T-1 lines. While T-1 lines are better than dial-up modems, much broader bandwidth is needed if HBCUs are going to
participate in the future generations of the Internet. And for rural HBCUs, the problem of access to high-speed connectivity is
magnified because access to broad bandwidth is limited.
“When compared to other institutions of higher education,
HBCUs are keeping pace with technology. However, keeping pace is the same as standing still in this information age,” NAFEO’s Roscoe says.
“HBCUs have created a nurturing environment for their
students, set high academic
standards and expectations and served as inspiring role models for the young people around them,” says Rep. Edolphus Towns,
D-N.Y., an HBCU graduate. “We simply cannot allow this valuable resource to fall into the gap created by a growing Digital Divide.”
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