Research Project – Lise Xu

Lise Xu

Professor Weaver

ENGL1102

27 April 2021


Colleges Approaching Digital Divide and Low-Income Students

            Much of education today relies heavily on digital technology compared to the “pens and papers” of the past. Even this very research project is completed electronically. Device usage in school starts in early education, where most students spend years building digital proficiency for higher education. Students are encouraged – even expected – to own some sort of electronic device with internet access, but not everyone has the privilege to do so. In his article “I Was a Low-Income College Student. Classes Weren’t the Hard Part”, Anthony Abraham Jack briefly mentions his lack of access to technology as a low-income student, highlighting the issue of the digital divide in education. The purpose of this research is to give insight into the impact of the digital divide on low-income college students and how colleges should approach this issue.

            There is no doubt that digital divide creates an academic disadvantage for low-income students. The use of technology has become an integral part of any college student’s life ranging from checking emails, registering for classes, accessing grades, etc. Success in higher education depends on the knowledge of using digital tools and services to one’s benefit. Joanna Goode in her journal “Mind the Gap: The Digital Dimension of College Access”, emphasizes the idea that the lack of access to technology in early education hurts a student’s ability to succeed in higher education. Goode believes that those from a lower socio-economic background tend to avoid utilizing technology to its fullest potential due to the embarrassment of the lack of digital experience. She then claims that “students who are not using technology are potentially at an academic disadvantage” compared to their counterparts (Goode 584). In other words, the digital divide that prompts the disadvantage for low-income students is a result of limited digital access to build technical proficiency prior to college.

In Goode’s journal, two case studies were conducted to follow up on her claim that low-income students have an academic disadvantage. The first study follows Lara, a Latina college freshman with a low-income background. In high school, she never utilized computers since she had no access to the internet despite having a device. Her teachers also had limited experience with digital programs, leaving her with minimal self-taught knowledge to survive college assignments. Lara was unaware of her university’s virtual resources as no one told her about them. Her experience is the opposite of the experience of Scott from the second case. Scott has a more advantageous background, having worked with computers since 4th grade. His high level of proficiency was built throughout the years and allowed him to utilize his knowledge to the maximum in college. In this case, Scott was aware of his university’s virtual resources, which saved him time and money that Lara did not have the opportunity to get. Based on these two students’ experiences, “schools need to be guided by universities to better prepare students for the high-tech demands of campus life” (Goode 607). Those with a low-income background cannot succeed without support from universities, whether it starts from early education or when students are on campus.

There has always been an assumption that the digital divide exists due to the lack of unlimited access to technology and Wi-Fi. The obvious solution is to have an institution provide devices and online access to all students to allow everyone equal opportunity. Buford L. McWright believed there was more to the digital divide besides the lack of access. He conducted a study with students of various races and economic backgrounds and documented his findings in the article “EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY AT A DISTANCE Is Access to Technology Enough?” The study itself concluded with the idea that “providing access…may be a necessary” but it is not sufficient enough to ensure “students will improve their skills and develop more positive attitudes toward technology” (McWright 171). Digital divide hurts low-income students by interfering with their opportunities to build technical skills. Even if colleges did provide unlimited access, these students would not benefit much more due to their lack of experience.

Going into higher education, college students will have various degrees of digital readiness due to their diverse backgrounds. Digital divide and education inequalities affect each student’s digital literacy, with low-income students suffering the consequences of having less digital knowledge. This concept is introduced through a study in Nicole Buzzetto-Hollywood, et al.’s journal “Addressing Information Literacy and the Digital Divide in Higher Education.” The journal addresses the belief that many in higher education assume students are already proficient in digital learning and technology to be successful, therefore “rendering additional coursework unnecessary” (Buzzetto-Hollywood, et al. 89). That hurts low-income students as colleges will spend less time and resources providing digital assistance with their generalizing belief. Higher education institutions should instead focus on examining digital literacy skills and the needs of all students, followed by providing resources for these students to improve their technical capabilities by the time they graduate.

As education continues to digitalize, the academic inequalities low-income students experience will keep growing. The main concern revolves around the lack of experience these students have with technology and digital programs that would otherwise help them through higher education. As technology evolves and new complicated programs emerge, low-income students are left in the dust without proper support. Colleges should take into consideration every student’s digital literacy skills and technical backgrounds to provide efficient programs that can bridge the academic inequality between students.


Works Cited

Buzzetto-Hollywood, Nicole, et al. “Addressing Information Literacy and the Digital Divide in Higher Education.” Interdisciplinary Journal of E-Learning & Learning Objects, vol. 14, Jan. 2018, pp. 77–93. EBSCOhost, doi:10.28945/4029.

Goode, Joanna. “Mind the Gap: The Digital Dimension of College Access.” Journal of Higher Education, vol. 81, no. 5, Sept. 2010, pp. 583–618. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00221546.2010.11779068.

Jack, Anthony Abraham. “I was a Low-Income College Student. Classes Weren’t the Hard Part.” New York Times, Sept. 20, 2019. 

MCNAMEE, T. Y., et al. “Don’t Forget About Rural Higher Education Students: Addressing Digital Inequities During COVID-19.” Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, vol. 37, no. 7, May 2020, pp. 12–13. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,shib&db=a9h&AN=143444985&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

McWright, Buford L. “EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY AT A DISTANCE Is Access to Technology Enough?” Quarterly Review of Distance Education 4, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 167. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,shib&db=a9h&AN=10049797&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

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