CORONAVIRUS

State awards $4.3 million to 43 campuses to aid 'internet connectivity for students'

'It's critical that we support the schools, colleges, and universities,' governor says

Exterior view of the Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, Tuesday Jan. 31, 2012. (Steve Pope/Freelance)
Exterior view of the Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, Tuesday Jan. 31, 2012. (Steve Pope/Freelance)

With much undergraduate instruction happening online in Iowa colleges this fall — including at the University of Iowa, where three-fourths of undergrad classes have been pushed online — the state on Thursday announced it’s distributing $4.3 million across 43 campuses “to increase internet connectivity for students.”

The money is part of the state’s $26.2 million in “Governor’s Emergency Education Relief” funds — from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act. It’s intended to help colleges and universities overcome barriers associated with online and remote learning this academic year.

“It’s critical that we support the schools, colleges, and universities working to provide learning opportunities to our students both inside and outside of the classroom,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement.

“The resources announced today will go directly to colleges and universities assisting students who are learning through online and remote options because of the pandemic.”

The awards, according to the governor’s office, aim to “ensure students have equitable access to technology needed to continue their education throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Iowa’s colleges and universities applied for funding by showing how they’d use it. Allocations were based on the financial needs of each of the campus’ undergraduate students — determined by assessing the number on federal Pell grants.

Each campus got about $85.24 per Pell grant student — so about $547,688 for Iowa State University, which received the most of any campus for its 6,425 Pell grant students, and $410,190 for the University of Iowa, which got the second-largest grant.

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Among community colleges, Des Moines Area Community College received the largest sum — $380,014 for its 4,458 Pell students — followed by Kirkwood Community College, which received $319,406 for 3,747 Pell students.

Among private colleges, Upper Iowa University and the University of Dubuque received the most — $130,111 and $86,040, respectively.

Although the state didn’t share details of the college and university funding applications, Iowa State in September sought bids to upgrade internet wiring in its residence halls. The request for proposals was for more than 2,200 computer ports.

Iowa State also recently issued a call for suppliers to implement a “hyper-converged” system to “virtualize servers used by campus department customers, including internal use.”

Although not specifically education-related, the UI recently issued a call for bids to “provide, run, maintain and operate” a new online store or platform “for the purpose of selling University of Iowa and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics branded items and apparel to employees and the public” — exemplifying the campuses’ increasing reliance on virtual platforms.

Ann Lebo, director of the Iowa Department of Education, said expanding virtual education delivery methods and ensuring students have technology to access are “some of the new challenges our higher education institutions are facing due to the pandemic.”

“These awards will enable colleges and universities to seek reimbursements for investments made to increase access, whether that be devices and software needed for virtual education or hot spots and other ways to increase internet access,” Lebo said in a statement.

The state earlier this year distributed $19.3 million in “GEER” funding to its 327 K-12 school districts and accredited non-public schools, to increase internet connectivity. Another $1 million in the funding was designated for those providing adult education and literacy services.

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And officials said $1.5 million will be made available for professional development “to support effective online and remote instruction at Iowa’s colleges and universities.”

Applications are due Dec. 11.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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