AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR / KCIT) – Over the years, Amarillo College has supported a variety of initiatives, helping to provide services such as housing insecurity, child care, and food to members of its student body who need it. need it most.
Now, with an addition in spring 2022, Amarillo College officials are hopeful that a new partnership in this global poverty-focused initiative will see the program ‘close the loop’: bridging the digital divide.
Amarillo College is launching a partnership with T-Mobile next spring, giving 400 students the option of having a mobile phone with unlimited phone calls, texts and data, so they can have internet access for their schoolwork. using the phone as a hot spot.
Officials said half of the units provided will be provided to the college’s most needy students, with the other half of the allocation being distributed on a first-come, first-served basis to students at its multiple campuses through the library.
Dave Bezzant, vice president of T-Mobile for Government, said via email that the program level the playing field for all students at Amarillo College.
“Providing reliable wireless connectivity and the latest devices helps create opportunities for students and transform the way teachers teach,” he said. “Our team has worked closely with Amarillo College to develop a program to keep students connected to our industry-leading 5G network and to deliver 5G smartphones to those who need them. Students can not only do their homework, but they also have access to the Internet for their daily life, including telehealth and wellness.
To fund the first semester of this initiative, Tamara Clunis, vice president of academic affairs at Amarillo College, said the college was using $ 140,000 of its funds from its allocation from the Coronavirus Aid Act, Relief and economic security, or CARES.
During the first half of the initiative, the devices will be available free to participants, with CARES law funds covering the costs. Over the next few semesters, Clunis said students may have to pay, which may charge against their financial aid, with the initiative still being free or affordable for those who need it most.
“We see this as an extension of our anti-poverty initiative and no excuse,” Clunis said. “So we’re going to try to make sure that our students who let us know that they are having difficulty maintaining high-quality broadband and internet connectivity to complete their schoolwork, they get it through the T-Mobile partnership. ”
As the college distributed part of the CARES funds to students, college officials interviewed the students. Denese Skinner, vice president of student affairs at Amarillo College, said that through this process, officials heard about the student’s struggles, including students having to prioritize bills, including whether to pay rent or pay the Internet bill.
“Where it started, which I knew was a need, was back during COVID. We interacted a lot with our students. Students made a request for emergency help and we interviewed every student who asked. emergency help over the phone, just to find out in detail rather than just filling out a form, “she said.” A lot of the students we spoke to, the internet, paying for their internet was the part difficult… Internet access was one of those we discovered that we had to fund a lot through COVID funding. ”
After a few initial conversations, Clunis said T-Mobile contacted Amarillo College about the program. During the past semester, devices were distributed to a number of students and faculty, noting the level of connectivity around town, as well as on college campuses in Hereford and Moore County.
Ultimately, this program impacts students and their ability to learn, Clunis said.
“We want our students to be in a safe environment. We want them to be able to do their homework in a timely manner, ”she said. “We have had students who have had their service turned off in the middle of the semester. We had students using their hotspot on their current service and they hit their daily limit, and it started to buckle up and slow down and they ended up failing the exam.
But by having this program, Clunis said it also helps the college as a whole to be more profitable, not needing to keep the computer lab open 24 hours a day. students also help the college faculty.
“We hope this will allow our faculty to focus on the teaching work and not have to, you know, deal with students who need accommodations because they were having problems with their internet connection or when they weren’t there. ‘they couldn’t complete an exam, or their internet was turned off because they didn’t have the funds to pay for it, ”she said. provide this service.
With COVID-19 causing the educational landscape to change, officials hope this initiative will help close the equity gap between those who have access to the internet and those who do not.
“These are the types of things that were the barriers that we are trying to remove for students so that they can complete their education at Amarillo College with the best possible experience,” Clunis said. “Internet connectivity is so important. ”
Clunis said the college hopes to maintain the program with grant funds once CARES funds cover its first semester.
This is a partnership that officials with T-Mobile are proud to be a part of, Bezzant said.
“T-Mobile and Amarillo College share a commitment to help advance learning and ensure that students have what they need to be successful,” he said. “We are proud to partner with Amarillo College to provide 5G wireless connectivity and 5G devices to help their students achieve their goals without having to worry about how they will access the internet. ”
For more information, visit the Amarillo College website.