Some (But Not All) West Virginia Community Colleges Enjoy Broadband Upgrade

As a growing number of colleges and universities across the United States offer more online courses and programs, it has become increasingly important for these institutions to have high-speed Internet access to make these offerings possible. In some areas of the country, particularly rural or remote regions, such access has been limited or absent entirely. But renewed efforts and funding in West Virginia have recently led to vast improvements for some community colleges there.

By Harrison Howe

broadband high speed internet access west virginia college university

Up and Running

When it comes to high-speed network technology, some higher education institutions are lucky enough to reside in larger cities or populated areas where such a luxury is easily afforded. But mountainous regions have long presented a challenge for high-speed Internet providers, and rural areas continue to trail metro areas in availability of broadband access in spite of the increased improvement that has been seen over the past few years. For institutions like colleges and universities, which rely on broadband to deliver online courses and videoconferencing, such availability has become a necessity.

For some West Virginia community colleges, this need was finally addressed in 2010 when the West Virginia Statewide Broadband Infrastructure Project made broadband expansion possible. Fueled by federal stimulus money granted to the state for just such an expansion, the project succeeded in September 2011 in delivering the goods.

Well, to most colleges, anyway.

A Tougher Go for Some

Schools located in more remote areas have not yet benefited from the upgrade.

The reasons for that might be less technical than practical: some of these regions have seen a decrease in population as tough economic times have led to lost jobs and thus to families leaving to seek opportunities elsewhere. The declining population results in lower enrollment in area colleges and a decreased need for updated technology.

George A. Beshears, chief information officer for Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, acknowledged, 'we're really below the curve' in a recent article appearing in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Dial-up access is provided by the college to about 200 residences around the school and connection can be lost during peak periods.

Faster is Better

Colleges that are now enjoying the broadband service have already seen an increase in online enrollment (at New River Community and Technical College, for example, enrollment has doubled!). Research capabilities at the colleges with broadband connection could also be enhanced, leading to the possibility of grants.

And making faster Internet connection available to the schools will positively impact the entire state. In 2010, West Virginia ranked 48th among states when it came to broadband service; it is expected to jump into the top five by 2013. Studies show that increased broadband availability in rural areas also results in greater economic growth in those areas, with an impact on business retention and growth, income and productivity. speaks with Blake Haggerty of the New Jersey Institute of Technology about the institution's long-standing online course offerings.

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