By Rosa Mendoza, President and CEO, ALLvanza

In today’s interconnected world, access to digital resources and online education has become more than a convenience—it’s a necessity. Yet, a significant portion of the global population still lacks access to reliable internet connections and digital tools, creating a digital divide that hampers progress and exacerbates socio-economic inequalities.

One of the most significant impacts of the digital divide is its effect on education. Without access to online resources and digital learning platforms, many individuals, especially those in underserved communities, are unable to pursue higher education or acquire essential skills needed in today’s digital economy. This lack of access limits opportunities for personal growth, employment, and economic empowerment.

Online education has emerged as a powerful tool in bridging the digital divide.  Critical to this have been innovative partnerships between institutions of higher education and online program managers – companies that work with colleges and universities to deploy flexible online degree and certificate programs. By offering learning opportunities that transcend geographical barriers, these partnerships have been an equalizing force in higher education, reducing historical inequities by providing a pathway for individuals to access quality education regardless of their location or background.

This accessibility is particularly crucial for non-traditional students, working professionals, and individuals with disabilities who may face challenges in traditional educational settings. However, the advantages of these partnerships depend on advancing internet infrastructure and expanding broadband access to underserved areas. To ensure Americans have access to the innovative tools of online education, access to internet and connectivity must be consistent in America’s homes, and companies like online program managers should be encouraged to provide their services to educators.

We have seen how the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) has made a nationwide impact in expanding access to affordable internet options needed for digital learning. The ACP provided more than 23 million low-income households with a monthly $30 discount on home broadband service from participating internet service providers.

Unfortunately, without immediate congressional action, the ACP will exhaust its current source of funds. April was the last fully funded month.  To advance in our digital economy, Congress must act to safeguard ACP’s continued benefits and success.

Additionally, the Department of Education’s 2023 plan to expand regulations would threaten the valuable services that online program managers provide to colleges, which can be detrimental to underserved communities already at a disadvantage in accessing higher education.

Fostering the transformative power of online learning must entail integrating digital literacy to empower individuals with the skills needed to navigate online learning platforms, use digital tools effectively, and critically evaluate online information.

Closing the digital divide and expanding access to online education is not just a matter of technological advancement; it’s a moral imperative and a pathway to a more equitable society.  Government entities, educational institutions, online program managers, advocacy organizations, and individuals must collaborate to invest in digital infrastructure, promote digital literacy, and develop inclusive online learning environments. This will advance online learning and education for the next generation of students to come.