The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates 21 million Americans lack access to high-speed internet. In Missouri, 780,000 people do not have a wired high-speed internet connection, and 352,000 residents do not have access to a broadband connection at all. In many cases, when access to broadband is available, Americans are still unable to afford the monthly payments. The Pew Research Center last year reported that 44 percent of adults in households with incomes below $30,000 do not have broadband.

Covid-19 has compounded the problem — creating economic hardships for millions of Americans while also making online access more important than ever. The pandemic has driven double digit growth for broadband in the span of a couple of weeks. A recent report by OpenVault found that average broadband consumption at the end of the first quarter in 2020 rose to 402.5GB per user, an increase of 47 percent compared to the first quarter of 2019’s average of 273.5 GB.

For those whose jobs have been impacted by the pandemic, returning to school to prepare for new career opportunities is critical. However, the loss of income may make it impossible to pay for broadband services students need to return to school. WGU’s Online Access Scholarship will support this need by allowing students to learn from the safety of their homes.

“I am currently unable to take on work at my warehouse job because my seven-year-old son has asthma, and I am unable to put him in childcare and risk him contracting the virus,” said Eulonda Beard, one of the first recipients of the Online Access Scholarship who was furloughed from her job and had to drop her online classes because she couldn’t afford internet access. “Receiving this online access scholarship means I can go back to school and finish my IT degree so I can pursue a career in web development. I want to focus on UX design and develop websites that are more accessible to people of all abilities. This scholarship has put me closer to my dream. Being able to go back to school will open up a lot of different opportunities for me, including financial freedom. The thought of buying a car and paying bills ahead of time while doing something I love is amazing.”