Repercussions of Poor Broadband Connectivity for Students in Rural and Small Town Michigan
34 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2020
Date Written: December 15, 2020
This paper examines the repercussions of discrepancies in Internet connectivity for high school students in rural and small-town locations in Michigan. It provides detailed analyses of the interrelations between broadband connectivity, educational outcomes, digital skills, and broader life outcomes. While the disadvantages of insufficient Internet access are well established, existing research has not fully investigated the extent of student performance gaps resulting from varying levels of home connectivity. Our research uses a granular, yet fully de-identified original data set focused on rural broadband access that allows assessing the effects of discrepancies in connectivity on several measures of educational achievement, including grades, standardized test scores, and educational aspirations.
With the help of intermediate school districts and Merit Network, we collected and combined information from three sources: a detailed survey of middle and high school students from 173 classrooms in 15 predominately rural Michigan school districts, SAT/PSAT standardized test scores, and home speed tests. This approach resulted in unique original data set of 3,258 observations. This data includes many households that are either cell phone dependent or cannot get broadband access at home (see Hampton et al., 2020). The paper explores the relations among infrastructure, sociodemographic variables, and student achievement outcomes, using multiple statistical approaches, including hierarchical linear models to address the nested structure of the relationships and path analysis.
We find that students who do not have access to the Internet from home or are dependent on a cell phone only for access, perform lower on a range of metrics, including digital skills, homework completion, and grades. Students lacking home Internet, and those dependent on a cell phone, are also less likely to consider post-secondary education. A deficit in digital skills compounds inequalities in access, contributing to lower standardized test scores and less interest in STEM careers. Consequently, lack of broadband access not only impacts school performance, but also has broader repercussions for career choice, life income, and the ability to adapt to emerging demands of the workforce. We believe the findings are generalizable to rural America.
Our analysis suggests that infrastructure availability and sociodemographic factors affect outcomes. Unlike most sociodemographic factors, access affects outcomes in indirect paths, particularly through its effects on digital skill. Based on these findings we offer policy considerations and practical recommendations for narrowing and eliminating these digital inequalities. Our analysis suggests a multi-pronged, polycentric policy approach. Whereas it is important to mobilize local creativity and initiatives, effective measures require the collaboration of local, state and federal decision-makers across traditional boundaries and jurisdictions.
Keywords: Broadband policy, digital inequalities, rural broadband, homework gap, polycentric solutions
JEL Classification: L86, L96, H54, I28
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation