Muskegon Community College has been no stranger to hardship over the past year, and the population of out-of-county students is facing an even greater struggle when it comes to remote learning.
“COVID-19 has highlighted many inequities in our society,” said Kelley Conrad, Vice President of Academic Affairs at MCC. “One is the inequity in education that results from the lack of high-speed internet. This was true before the pandemic, but the pandemic and our reliance on remote learning have made it very difficult to ignore.”
An astounding 40 percent of Newaygo students have no access to the internet. Only 9 percent of Newaygo’s geography has access to Xfinity internet by Comcast. Viasat, the most applicable provider for Wi-Fi in Newaygo at 100 percent availability in the county, can run at a maximum of 35 megabits per second. Roughly 6,000 people in Newaygo county only have access to one or fewer internet providers at their respective addresses.
“I think it’s a much bigger issue than that,” said Conrad, when discussing if this issue was exclusive to only Newaygo county. “It’s much bigger than any one school district or community college.”
Out-of-county students account for roughly 39 percent of MCC’s student population as of the winter 2021 semester and 336 students reside in Newaygo county, making up 23.5 percent of the out-of-county student count.
“Out-of-county students will oftentimes seek classes at one of our extension centers or alternate sites outside of Muskegon County,” said Cheryl Flannery, Early College Dean and Course Manager at MCC. “For many students, taking a class or classes on campus or in-seat is preferred. Seeking a site closer to their residence can be due to lack of connectivity, but also due to wanting to save mileage by attending classes more local to their residence.”
With the next academic year up and coming, classes will gradually resume on campus. With hopes of having at least half of the courses available in person by the fall semester of 2021, out-of-county students hope to be seeing brighter days ahead of them.
“Our out-of-county students are equally important to MCC as our in-county students,” said Flannery. “While our IT department has been working diligently to support the students without the needed technology, not having internet in our rural areas is unfortunate and inequitable with the advances we have access to in the twenty-first century. This isn’t something that MCC has the control to fix. This is a much larger issue and one shared by those less economically able to fix.”