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Students and Universities Continue on Despite COVID-19 to Make Most of College During Pandemic



Photo by Gustavo Fring used with permission

September 3, 2020 – With no end in sight to the COVID-19 pandemic, students and academic institutions are cautiously beginning the fall semester either in person, online, or somewhere in-between.

Cole Ridgway, a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University, was notified days before his classes began that all but one had been moved online. His job had just announced it would soon become remote as well. With the two biggest parts of his routine now taking place virtually, Cole was instantly concerned about the monotony of his new day-to-day.

“All my time is going to be spent at home, at one desk, and I’m going to go insane,” he recalls thinking.

A screenshot of Cole Ridgeway during a conversation via webcam

The bad news for Cole didn’t stop there. The only course in his schedule that remained in-person was Intermediate Chinese, a class where spontaneous conversation, engaging with peers, and nonverbal cues directly impact learning. He was only able to attend only a handful of sessions before the course also shifted online.

As a Political Science major with an international focus, Cole intends to persue a career in China after graduation. He felt apprehensive that a virtual language class could adequately prepare him for a future overseas.

“It’s hard not to feel my confidence shaken in getting a firm enough footing in the language to [go] abroad,” Cole said.

Though VCU is still offering some in-person courses, many of Cole’s peers at the central Virginia university face the same challenge he does: a semester entirely online.

Cole Ridgway with his family

Virtual schooling is increasingly common as COVID-19 continues to threaten in-person gatherings. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, around a third of colleges intend to deliver fall courses though an online-only or hybrid format in response to the pandemic.

For students and universities alike, the prospect of online college comes with significant pitfalls. In addition to issues surrounding reliable computers and internet access, many students feel they are missing out on key aspects of the college life. Schools anticipate significant financial losses and disengaged pupils, many of whom are angry at being charged full tuition for an online experience.

Strategies for dealing with COVID-19 from different universities

VCU, based in Richmond, is of one of many institutions beginning the semester through a hybrid setup.

While some courses have moved online, smaller classes have remained in-person. Upon arriving on grounds, each student was provided with a starter supply of hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, and washable face coverings, while 50 kiosks around campus allow students to monitor their temperature.

All students attending class in-person were required to complete an online course that outlined proper safety protocol, such as the guidelines for disinfecting personal and shared spaces before and after use. Students were made to acknowledge they understood these requirements as well as the punishments for disregarding them.

However, a student informant at VCU who asked to remain anonymous reported that many of their peers have yet to complete the online course, yet haven’t faced consequences from the administration. The source also says that many students are ignoring the guidelines to disinfect classroom items after use, also with no repercussions.

Meanwhile, the university’s Honors College dormitory has been converted into a quarantine space for students. A location set aside for to self- isolation is increasingly needed. On August 26, 44 student athletes tested positive for the virus. By Monday, the number of cases at the university had grown to 146.

For those keeping their distance, VCU is working to accommodate students who aren’t able to participate in on-campus activities. The University is offering a virtual student activity fair continuously through the semester to help create a sense of community among new and returning students.

Further, VCU’s Division of Student Affairs keeps an up-to-date bulletin for all virtual worships, social connection opportunities, and events taking place.

Liberty University’s approach to in-person instruction

Liberty University, the private evangelical institution in Lynchburg, Virginia, chose instead to begin the semester on entirely in person on August 24 while saying they were still adhering to CDC guidelines. Former university president Jerry Falwell, Jr. – who resigned last week over allegations about conduct in his personal life – had in June cited the ‘close to zero lethal threat’ COVID-19 poses to young people as the reason for the University staying open.

Photo of Liberty University campus

In fact, Liberty released a lengthy operating plan outlining its COVID response. The document establishes a COVID Task Force to ensure the University is able to quickly respond to the latest developments. For instance, if more than 5 percent of the university population tested positive for COVID or is presenting with symptoms the school will shift to online-only instruction.

The operating plan (PDF) also outlined procedures for contract tracing among students, and creates a communication line between Resident Advisors and University Health Services in order to monitor the health of students in dorms .

All-remote education at Michigan State University

While others have opted for in-person instruction, Michigan State University announced on August 18 that the whole fall semester would be taught remotely. The college cited outbreaks at other universities as the reason for moving entirely online. However, a small number of students with extenuating circumstances will be allowed to live in residence halls, while the university is committed to working with its international students on their visa status.

A wholly remote semester means MSU must cultivate an online experience that students find fulfilling academically as well as socially.

For example, the university keeps an online bulletin regularly updated with tips for virtual learning and social success during the period of remote instruction. The bulletin provides links to the university’s tutoring and writing centers, all of which have moved online, in addition to a list of public Wi-fi sites in Michigan for those who don’t have reliable internet at home.

The bulletin also points students to applications like Facebook and Discord as a way to connect with on-campus organizations. Zoom events hosted by the university are also listed, even group fitness classes and movie viewings.

Even “welcome week,” a tradition aimed at helping freshman connect with MSU, has also moved entirely online. The celebration comes complete with a live streaming of fall convocation as well as virtual tours of notable locations on campus, such as the Abrams Planetarium and the MSU Museum.

Students angered by cost of attendance even as universities are struggling financially

However, not all students are satisfied with an online experience. Jahfreen Alam, a senior at University of California San Diego, laments paying the full cost of attendance, noting that key aspects of university life don’t transfer over in a virtual environment.

“The extras, the opportunities, the networking availabilities [are] what makes a specific school unique. By taking classes online I don’t have access to these extras or the same resources as I would if I were to be paying tuition for in-person classes.” Alam told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Oneclass, a virtual resource for study material, found that 93 percent of 13,606 students surveyed felt if classes were held entirely online college tuition should be lowered. Of respondents, 75 percent reported dissatisfaction with the quality of online classes, while 35 percent are considering withdrawing from school this year.

Aaron Vanek, a rising senior at New York University, believes each school should be transparent about their financial situation: “I would like to see a calculation around how much money is being saved by this remote instruction and using that to factor into a kind of refund to give to the students. That seems like the fairest thing for me,” he told CNBC.

However, despite instruction moving online, colleges are still required to maintain infrastructure as classes will eventually reconvene in person. There also are costs associated with preparing for a virtual semester, especially if a school previously had no remote learning infrastructure in place

Colleges where even a fraction of the student body is attending in-person classes must pay to maintain a safe environment. These expenses include protective equipment, sanitation personnel, and cleaning supplies, such as the $309,000 that the University of Central Florida in Orlando reported paying on reusable masks for student and staff members.

Universities are being hit by these expenses while revenue streams like college athletics and student housing have dried up. The University of Arizona projects it will lose $250 million from the pandemic, while the University of Michigan estimates losses ranging from $400 million to $1 billion.

State funds allocated to public universities may also decline significantly due to decreased state revenue and new expenditures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, a report from NAFSA, an association of international educators, estimates that colleges will lose at least $3 billion due to international student dropping in the fall of 2020 (

International students face unique problems

International students are a significant source of revenue for American colleges. For these students, a curriculum online can determine whether they will come to the US or remain in their home country.

Qing Li, a student from northern China, had planned to begin a law degree at the University of Washington this fall. However, the visa appointment he’d scheduled at the U.S. Embassy in Shenyang, China, was canceled at a week’s notice. By that time more than 90 percent of the University’s classes moved online, and Li didn’t see remote learning as feasible for someone in his situation. He decided to defer enrollment in the program.

“The class interactions might not be a big issue for students who study math or computer science,” Li to USA Today. “But for law students, class participation is everything.”

The future law student expressed concern about the 15-hour time difference between China and Seattle, the city the University of Washington is based in. For Li this could have meant streaming lectures from midnight to sunrise.

Li is not alone in his decision. A study conducted in July by World Education Services found that of the 615 international students surveyed, only 38 percent would matriculate to a U.S. institution if courses moved entirely online while 32 percent would not enroll. The remaining 30 percent remained undecided.

Such figures have a serious impact. According to the National Foundation for American Policy (PDF), the number of new international students entering American universities in the fall hasn’t been this low since World War II.

Some university offerings to cope with the coronavirus pandemic

Some universities are attempting to increase international enrollment numbers through unique offerings. For example, Cornell University’s Office of Global Learning has tailored its Study Away program to provide international students a way to “attend” Cornell while remaining in their home country.

The Ivy League university partnered with international colleges around the world to provide their students housing and co-curricular opportunities to be involved in while attending Cornell classes online.

This programs might offer a temporary solution for students with the hope of enticing them to continue their studies in America after the coronavirus threat passes.

Though Cole laments his classes at VCU moving online, he is quick to defend university administrators for their decision and commends professors for making the best of a less-than-ideal situation. As he elaborated on the negative impact going virtual has had on his Intermediate Chinese class, Cole clarified that his instructor should receive no criticism.

“Don’t disparage my 老师,” He said, affectionately referring to his professor as lǎoshī, the Chinese word for “teacher.”


Fiber Industry Can Build Interest in Broadband Workforce By Catering to Student Interests: Experts

The BEAD program allows providers to use funds to deploy workforce development strategies.



Photo of Amelia De Jesus of Wireless Infrastructure Association, Lesley Liarikos of Tower Systems, Brian O'Hara of NRECA, Joshua Seidemann of NTCA, Craig Thomas of the Broadband Forum, and Mark Boxer of OFS (left to right) and

ORLANDO, August 22, 2023 – The fiber industry can stimulate interest in the broadband workforce by engaging with college students on platforms they frequent, such as online gaming, said panelists at the Fiber Connect conference Tuesday. 

Amelia De Jesus, vice president of workforce solutions at the Wireless Infrastructure Association, suggested that providers leverage the rising generation’s interest in virtual gaming and augmented reality to encourage them to engage in a career that they care about, namely the infrastructure that enables the applications that they use. She suggested that VR can be used to train new employees, and conduct drone inspections of broadband lines.  

Fiber skillsets open a variety of other career opportunities for people entering the workforce, said Brian O’Hara, senior director of regulatory affairs at electric cooperative trade association NRECA. He said that providers can capitalize on this benefit to enhance their workforce efforts.  

Once employees are trained and practiced in fiber technology and deployment, these skills can be used in many ways, O’Hara said, claiming that this will encourage young adults to be more engaged in learning these skills. He pointed to support for telehealth platforms, precision agriculture systems, schools, and hospitals, among other careers.  

O’Hara recommended that providers educate the rising generation on the benefits of internet connection to provide them with a mission and purpose that can drive their career. He added that younger generations are environmentally conscious, which can be leveraged by providers by educating the next generation of workers on how broadband can reduce emissions, facilitate faster deployment of renewable energy, and provide a more efficient electricity grid.  

The key point is that the industry encourages excitement in college students and help them develop core skillsets that can be taken anywhere they want, concluded O’Hara.  

“States are depending on providers and operators to build out these networks,” added De Jesus, referring to the $42.5 billion set to be available to states for broadband builds in 2024 through the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program. For the first time in the history of the internet, providers have the money available to find and train employees to expand the workforce, she said. The BEAD program allows providers to use funds to deploy workforce development strategies. 

There is no nationally trusted technician certification, especially for the more than 1,200 smaller fiber providers in the country, said Mark Boxer, technical manager for OFS, a fiber optic designer, manufacturer and provider. He warned that newer workforce knowledge is inconsistent and that industry memory of procedure is fading as previously deeper trained generations move on. 

Experts have raised workforce shortages as a looming concern for coming BEAD-funded projects. Many have suggested various mechanisms to address the shortage, including hiring ex-convicts, developing apprenticeship programs, and engaging students at an earlier age.

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Students Should Limit Screen Time, Panel Hears

Experts suggest a combination of active activities and group projects.



Screenshot of Eileen Belastock

WASHINGTON, August 17, 2023 – Students in K-12 and higher education should have a limited amount of screen time while enrolled in online courses, said digital education experts at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday. 

Eileen Belastock, CEO of online education consulting firm Belastock Consulting, said that students do not learn well when they are looking at a screen. Children need more time off screen with tech free options to work on school projects, she said.  

“Screen time is not good for students,” she said. “It lends itself to bullying, inappropriate conduct. I also think students don’t learn well when they’re looking at a screen. I think they need more personalized, off screen, tech-free projects to work on.” 

Belastock suggested that educators have students conduct online research and engage in real life projects that will switch up their day and help them accomplish something new. 

Jason Amos, director of communications at the National School Boards Association, added that educators can add variety into classrooms by assigning passive, active, individual, and group activities. “Sitting on a laptop for hours and hours and hours or sitting in a lecture for that long is not a great way for kids to learn,” he said. He said active group participation remotely can help engage students and provide “tremendous opportunity” for a greater educational impact on the students. 

Amos added that it is a concern for how much time children are spending online and not interacting with their peers, especially because students are inclined to relax by playing video games or watching television. 

While Charles Severance, clinical professor of information at University of Michigan School of Information, agreed, he added that technology can be more versatile for students enrolled in online courses. Educating technology can be with students while they are outside or on a walk, he said. He urged for educators to find new systems that cater to student’s needs. 

Severance added that the biggest mistake in the country-wide push to move all classes in person is that it overlooks that some classes may be preferable online. Some classes do not need close interaction for students to be engaged in learning while others do, he said.  

Experts said in March that digital learning is here to stay following the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming that it “opened a door that can’t be closed again” in terms of technology’s role in education. 

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023 – Remote Education and Online Learning

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our world upside down, but it also ushered in a transformative era of education, wherein online learning has emerged as a powerful alternative avenue for academic development. The remarkable progress in virtual reality, metaverse, and artificial intelligence has been steadily dismantling traditional barriers to remote education, such as accessibility, efficiency, and engagement. Where does online learning go from here? How does technology factor into this field? Are there any pitfalls students, educators, and parents should be cautious of, particularly concerning online risks for children?


  • Jason Amos, Director of Communications, National School Boards Association
  • Eileen Belastock, CEO of Belastock Consulting
  • Dr. Charles Severance, Clinical Professor of Information, University of Michigan School of Information
  • Erik Langner, CEO, Information Equity Initiative
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Jason Amos has more than two decades of experience in education policy and communications, including several years as a congressional staffer. Currently, he is the Director of Communications for the National School Boards Association, a non-profit organization representing state associations of school boards and member school districts. NSBA’s purpose is to ensure that each student everywhere has access to excellent and equitable public education governed by high-performing school board leaders and supported by the community.

Eileen Belastock is the CEO of Belastock Consulting and an EdTech Leadership Specialist with the Mass. Office of EdTech. As a former K12 CTO, she has championed safety and security, encouraged student agency, and supported students with equitable access to their education. She is also a published writer, a national keynote presenter, and the 2020 top 100 Ed-Tech Influencer and 2022 Edtech Digest Leadership Award finalist.

Erik Langner is the CEO of Information Equity Initiative (IEI), an international nonprofit organization committed to ensuring everyone, regardless of geography or income, has access to high-quality, digital learning resources. IEI partners with government agencies, broadcasters, content producers, and funders to provide curated digital content to homes and facilities that lack broadband via a technology called “Datacasting.” Langner has worked in public broadcasting for two decades and was previously a corporate attorney in New York City and San Francisco, and worked at the United Nations in Geneva. Langner received his law degree from Northwestern University and his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Charles Severance is a Clinical Professor and teaches in the School of Information at the University of Michigan. He teaches over popular Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) including Python for Everybody – the most popular online programming course in the world on the CourseraedX, and FutureLearn platforms. He is also a long-time advocate of open source educational technology and open educational resources to empower teachers. Previously he was the Executive Director of the Sakai Foundation and the Chief Architect of the Sakai Project. Dr. Severance has written several books including “Using the Google App Engine”, “Python for Informatics”, “High Performance Computing”, and “Sakai: Free as in Freedom.”

Drew Clark is CEO of Breakfast Media LLC. He has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

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Anchor Associations Asking for Deadline Extension on Emergency Connectivity Fund Deployment

Associations say delays in getting fund approval and services/equipment means not getting full use of the program.



Photo of SHLB Executive Director John Windhausen Jr.

WASHINGTON, April 6, 2023 – A duo of anchor institution associations has requested Wednesday that the Federal Communications Commission extend the deadlines to implement funding from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, in part citing delays in getting and deploying equipment and services.

The Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition and the Consortium for School Networking have asked for a year extension to June 30, 2024 for the first two funding rounds if the applicant received a decision on or after March 1, 2022, and a six-month extension to the aforementioned date for the third and latest round to implement money from the program intended to keep students connected to the internet when away from school. Their request asks to waive a section of the program rules that have set those current dates in stone.

According to the waiver request filed Wednesday, funding recipients have either received a decision letter “with a narrow amount of time” to use the funding prior to the current delivery dates or have yet to receive their application approval.

“Certain factors, such as the amount of time between when an applicant received its [decision or revised decision letter] and the service delivery date, combined with the time necessary for a recipient to order, receive, and distribute equipment and services once they are procured, could inhibit an ECF recipient from fully using their requested funding prior to the service delivery dates,” the waiver request said.

The duo added that “many applicants” wait to enter contracts for the equipment and services until they get funding approval. Those that put the cart before the horse may find themselves having to renegotiate certain terms, for example in the case where services or equipment prices increased by the time they get the funding notice, the request said, adding the anchor institutions have been up against “any remaining manufacturing and global supply chain issues” from the pandemic that are contributing to delays.

The organizations gave several examples of problems faced by the anchor institutions where they would not be able to provide the 12 months of services provided by the program, including size and availability increases of buses in Georgia adding additional deployment time and a California education office that had to coordinate with multiple programs that delayed deployment.

“In these cases, even an applicant that received its [funding letters] exactly twelve months prior to the current applicable service delivery date would not be able to provide a full twelve months of ECF-supported service,” the request said.

The waiver request said if the commission does not extend the delivery dates, applicants won’t be able to use all their award funding, which will mean the regulator will have spent less than the full amount appropriated by Congress.

“It would be a far better policy outcome for the Commission to extend the deadline and allow applicants to utilize the full amount of their awarded funding rather than opening a fourth application window to award the remaining dollars,” the duo said.

The FCC has allocated just over $6.6 billion of the $7.1 billion from the ECF program, as it has been making periodic funding decisions over the months.

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