Is there a Correlation between the Digital Divide and College Access?

Is there a Correlation between the Digital Divide and College Access?
RESEV 615: Analytic Paper Summary
Laura Bestler-Wilcox
Iowa State University
June 24, 2008

Is there a Correlation between the Digital Divide and College Access?

The digital divide is not just about having access to the internet and technology; it is about how people utilize it. The digital divide is about having access to construct social capital while obtaining the available universal knowledge. Examples of digital divide included technological literacy, quality of technology, and access (Bargh & McKenna, 2004; Compaine, 2001; Eamon, 2004; The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2004). The digital divide impacted social capital and the ability to gain access to higher education (Pruijt, 2002; Fairlie, London, Rosner & Pastor, 2006; Bargh & McKenna, 2004; Venegas, 2007). In the present paper, the role of the digital divide with correlation to college access is explored. It is theorized that students who face challenges in college access are lacking digital access; thus digital access contributes to college accessibility. The following literature review will attempt to demonstrate and support this premise.

Defining the Digital Divide

In a book by Couldry (2003) the focus was not only the digital divide, it was about whether or not a digital divide exists in the United States. Couldry (2003) hypothesized that the digital divide is not only about access it is about how the internet is used and the ethics surrounding the policies created for universal access, digital inclusion. Much of the research contributed to the term digital divide was based upon access and not necessarily quality or usage. The research does not show how people react to the internet and technological benefits surrounding its utilization as a communication and knowledge tool. Digital inclusion becomes defined as those who have gained access via the internet and the social capital consequences surrounding those who do not have access. The internet holds no knowledge boundaries as it was in existence as a place, and readily accessible for those able to access it. The book concluded with the question of how the construction of the internet must be linked for numerous uses in community life and its extended impact.

The skill level of the technology exceeds that of internet access or ownership within digital divide in Mossberger et al. (2003) article. Access and ownership were merely tools, and skill level provided the opportunities for educational and economic growth. The authors’ research demonstrated schooling, earnings, and age, influence access and skill level to an even greater degree than race and ethnicity.

The term digital divide had become meaningful, more than just a definition in the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (2004) report. There were four types of technological internet access identified within the digital divide. This access included ability to get online, quality of access, technological literacy and useful content (i.e., schoolwork, employment opportunities and health information). These types of access reflected new terms such as digital opportunity and digital inequality. No matter the meaning, this report still determined that increasing digital access for underprivileged youth was a laudable cause. This report supported the importance of governmental policy educating youth to be taught, and thrive in the workforce with the assistance of technology. While there are no flawless solutions, studies within the digital divide are increasing, and there are strong indications that home internet access can improve and increase scholarship.

Several studies contained results that youth with digital access both in their household and schools do better scholastically than those students with only school access. In 2002, only 15% of classrooms had the high speed internet access of broadband for student usage. Most colleges and workplaces consider it a necessity to use of a computer effectively for word processing, and email. In one recent study, 87 percent of United States citizens said that “using technology effectively” is a very significant proficiency for youth to have in the 21st century. Therefore, governmental policy and funding was reportedly vital to overall student achievement for the considerable amounts of youth who lacked any meaningful digital access.

The Children’s Partnership (2005) reported the change from access to usage of technology and the internet with respect to the definition of the digital divide. The digital divide solution was not about providing the access; it was the strength of the access, and the technological resources. If these resources were considered too expensive, it showed access inequities to those who should have the ability to utilize the universal knowledge available to them. The rapid changes in technology and digital access software and hardware continued and created new divides for our schools. An adaptable solution would be necessary to closing the digital divide through digital opportunity.

Digital Opportunity

The results of the Economic and Statistics Administration, & National Telecommunications and Information Administration (2000) were utilized in a number of research articles. This study discussed where internet use gaps exist and the reflective demographics for individuals. Although there had been some progress with respect to overall usage, a few Americans were still connecting at far lower rates than others, producing a digital divide within these demographics. The demographic populations who reportedly had less prevalent internet access included Blacks, Latinos, low socioeconomic status, people with disabilities, rural households, no college education, people over 50 years old. As of August 2000, 41.5% of the Nation’s 105 million households, or 43.6 million homes, had Internet access. This study did not distinguish the type of internet connection (i.e., broadband, dial-up, wireless).

There was a significant technology disadvantage recorded between Latinos, African Americans and Whites in Eamon’s (2004) research article. This information was reflected in youth through socioeconomic status, and race in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration survey conducted in 2002. Disproportionate technology access and use not only emulate patterns of community stratification, but can prolong and even amplify inequalities amid these groups. These significant statistics showed how technology impacted youth, which in substantiated a substandard base of academic attainment and income. Technology usage would provide a way for K-12 students to access an unlimited amount of information, build knowledge making skills, and provide communication paths between schools and students’ family members. The piece concluded with how governmental policy seemingly continued to widen the divide instead of instituting significant change. This would be done by expanding high-speed internet access and computers for low income families, and have attainable eligibility guidelines for those people who truly need assistance.

Compaine’s (2001) book took considerable look at data from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (
NTIA) in reference to who is utilizing technology and the internet. Specifically, it researched the rural verses urban settings. Research showed children of color, low income and/or single-parent homes who do not have a computer with internet access at home utilized K-12 schools’ internet. The book concluded with the need for continued monitoring of home internet connectivity speed, and household access.

Fairlie et al. (2006), studied immigrant youth and the digital divide. This research investigated patterns of technology use, consequences of the digital divide, and the use of community technology centers as a solution. Previous research showed multiple limitations preventing immigrant youth from utilizing technology in schools and libraries. This was partially due to time restrictions, course enrollments, resource operations, school conflicts, and school transportation. These restraints along with precluded home technology access demonstrated the strong need for community technology centers to provide a place for usage outside of libraries and schools. This study reflected the importance of K-12 training with respect to how the majority of today’s workers used computers. For those works with a college degree, 85 percent of employees used a computer at work with 74 percent utilizing the internet. Even among high school graduates who did not attend college, 43 percent use a computer at work and 27 percent use the Internet. The majority of households with a computer had a 7.7 percent higher enrollment in schools and graduate from high school than those without a computer. Solutions outlined in this study to help decrease the divide included the e-learning outlined within the National Educational Technology Plan as part of the No Child Left Behind Policy; Individual Development Account (IDA) structure to allow savings to be used for home computer purchase; and the one-to-one laptops to schoolchildren policy option which provided every student and teacher in a school with their own laptop.

The digital divide was brought up to speed in Kohlenberger’s (2007) article. Globally, the United States has fallen behind other industrial countries through the way in which consumers may access the internet and the costs associated with it. Broadband was determined to be the highest level of internet access within the United States. A few countries already have access which is 500 times stronger than this signal. One third of the households within the United States do not have access to the internet, and out of the two-thirds which do have access only half have broadband service. The broadband connection access was tied to socioeconomic status with less than 10 percent access for households with an income below $25,000. Broadband would provide the means and thus transform the way in which education may occur for rural and inner-city youth. Bridging the gaps with broadband connection would create a cultivated means of learning for the United States. Students schooling could be solely based upon universal knowledge available online rather than on the current socioeconomic hierarchal educational methods used today. Thus, the higher levels of education would provide economic vitality.

Social Capital and Digital Inclusion

Social capital and the importance of the internet were introduced in the report from Ferrigno-Stack et al. (2003). This report utilized previous research which continued the documentation of the stratum of inequalities within United States citizens’ socioeconomic and geographic demographic status. Larry Irving, former director of the National Telecommunications and Information administration (NTIA) recommended how digital access can facilitate reading skills, employment opportunities, orchestrate creativity, access to college, and increase overall youth vitality. These important digital access learning opportunities need appropriate technological resources and knowledgeable educators to teach school youth. The authors recognized inequality was not only digital access; it was part of socioeconomic and racial stratification. The internet would level this stratification with unrestricted results, permitting more people to broaden their knowledge via the universal network. Digital access would be a vital part of the global economy determining how the United States can compete, and provide citizens with an ideal livelihood. The ideal livelihood included enhanced social capital through the establishment of online social networks. These networks decreased the social stratification found offline; however, if some United States citizens are denied access, the delineation would continue to prosper.

Television and telephones were instrumental to the development of social capital during the middle of the twentieth century; today’s youth considered digital access a vital tool according to Bargh & McKenna’s (2004) article. Internet access provided youth with a medium to learn from universal knowledge and to share it through communication (i.e., email, blogs, and text messages). The internet transformed communication access which allowed relationship development without the interpersonal physical characteristics. Rather than the internet being a solitary experience it was considered a means to introduce, increase and strengthen ties with friends and family.

Pruijt (2002) claimed the internet provided an environment for a flat organized society rather than a hierarchal one. Social capital was increased when individuals recognized the power of the internet’s collective action, rather than solving problems on an individual level. The internet was a place of networks with no membership required, instead it proliferates cooperation between individuals. This being said, this article employed the importance of the internet being accessible to everyone for information propagation, and not just for the elite.

Digital Divide Challenges

The challenges facing educators and the digital divide were discussed in DiBello’s (2005) study. Based upon DiBello’s research K-12 students who were technologically savvy had improved the educational opportunities, and better future employment and earnings. However, one of the greatest challenges facing the digital divide was the schools and educators resources. Educators had to weigh the importance of technology in the classroom or the focus of high-stakes standard preparation; governmental policies weighed the importance upon the latter. K-12 educators felt technology increased and did not help with their respective workloads. Home access to the internet via computers challenged how educators were able to help students learn from technology. This study finished with the verity to facilitate updated technological resources make a huge difference at school sites, and affect every level of access and use.

Low-income students who faced issues with college access paralleled those K-12 students who were unable to have significant internet access according to Vengas (2007). In fact, low-achieving, high-income students would attend college over a high-achieving low income student. The qualitative research demonstrated how low-income, urban high school seniors faced the internet impact with respect to college selection, application, admission, and financial aid process. Lack of resources and outdated technology were represented at the public institutions; whereas, private schools provided multiple computers with broadband connections for their students. Students of color with a low level socioeconomic status were represented within the major
ity of the public schools in comparison to the White and Asian Pacific Islander students at the private institutions. While colleges and universities continued to increase online resources and processes available to potential incoming students, these practices impeded college admission for students faced with digital access barriers.

Vengas (2007) provided stories from high school seniors from low-income schools and their experiences with college access. Many of the students shared the frustrations with the amount of time provided in school for internet access; resources and training available from educators; quality of internet/technology access to complete tasks; and frustrations with online university resources. Many public institutions did not allow students access to their public email accounts due to liabilities which surrounded school technological equipment usage. Even when a public school system reportedly offered computer internet access, it does not mean the resources are of appropriate quality and readily available to all students. Around half of the low-income students studied had a computer at home with less than 30 percent of them having internet access, and only 7 percent with a broadband connection. The author recognized higher education cannot put technological advances on hold for their respective processes; however, colleges and universities could collaborate with high schools, to provide training which could improve low-income students’ access to higher education. Combining assets to accommodate for inequalities between the socioeconomic stratifications between students may lead to increased collegiate prospects for our nation’s neediest students.


In conclusion, understanding the impact of digital inclusion on college access will give voice to the marginalized individuals and communities who are currently unable to utilize information and communication technologies. As the first generation to grow up with the internet starts to enter the larger world, we will undoubtedly learn more about the effects of the digital divide and see new directions for federal policy. Educational institutions, businesses, governmental agencies, and social networks utilizing online communication and technology to perform daily tasks are insurmountable to even imagine today. Therefore, the digital divide is not just about having access to the internet and technology; it is about people having access to the available universal knowledge.


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Compaine, B. (Ed.). (2001). The digital divide: Facing a crisis or creating a myth? Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Couldry, N. (2003). Digital divide or discursive design? On the emerging ethics of information space. Ethics and Information Technology (5): 89–97.

DiBello, L. (2005, Spring). Are we addressing the digital divide? Issues, access and real commitment. Childhood Education.

Eamon, M. K. (2004). Digital divide in computer access and use between poor and non-poor youth. Journal of Social and Social Welfare (31)2: 91-112.

Economic and Statistics Administration, & National Telecommunications and Information Administration. (2000). Falling through the net: Toward digital inclusion. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce.

Fairlie, R. W., London, R. A., Rosner, R., & Pastor, M. (2006). Crossing the Divide: Immigrant youth and digital disparity in California. Santa Cruz, CA: University of California – Center for Justice, Tolerance, and Community.

Ferrigno-Stack, J., Robinson, J. P., Kestnbaum, M., Neustadtl, A., & Alvarez, A. (2003). Internet and society: A summary of research reported at WebShop 2001. Social Science Computer Review (21)1: 73-117.

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Pruijt, H. (2002). Social capital and the equalizing potential of the internet. Social Science Computer Review (20)2: 109-115. Retrieved on May 24, 2008 from

The Children’s Partnership. (2005). Measuring digital opportunity for America’s children: Where we stand and where we go from here. Washington, DC: Author.

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Venegas, K. M. (2007). The internet and college access: Challenges for low-income students. American Academic (3)1: 141-154.