Amarillo College, T-Mobile partner for new internet initiative for students

Local News

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Over the years, Amarillo College has sustained various initiatives, helping provide services including housing insecurity, childcare and food to members of its student population who are most in need. 

Now with an addition coming in Spring 2022, Amarillo College officials hope a new partnership in this overall poverty-centered initiative will bring the program “full circle:” bridging the digital divide. 

Amarillo College is launching a partnership with T-Mobile next spring, giving 400 students the opportunity to have a mobile telephone with unlimited phone calls, text messages and data, so they can have access to the internet for their schoolwork by using the phone as a hotspot. 

Officials stated that half of the units provided will be provided to the college’s most in-need students, with the other half of the allocation being distributed on a first-come-first-served basis to students across its multiple campuses through the library. 

Dave Bezzant, the vice president for T-Mobile for Government, said via email that this program levels the playing field for all students at Amarillo College.

“Providing reliable wireless connectivity and the latest devices helps create opportunities for students and transform how educators teach,” he said. “Our team worked closely with Amarillo College to develop a program to keep students connected on our industry-leading 5g network and provide 5G smartphones to those in need. Students not only can do their schoolwork, they also have access to the internet for their daily life including telehealth and wellness.”

To fund the first semester of this initiative, Tamara Clunis, the vice president of academic affairs at Amarillo College, said that the college is using $140,000 of its funds from its allocation from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, act. 

In the first semester of the initiative, the devices will be available at no cost to the participants, with the CARES act funds covering the cost. In future semesters, Clunis said students may have to pay, being able to charge against their financial aid, with the initiative still being free or affordable for those in the most need. 

“We’re seeing this as an extension of our poverty initiative and no excuses,” Clunis said. “So, we are going to try to make sure that our students that let us know that they have challenges with maintaining high-quality broadband and internet connectivity to complete their schoolwork, they will have that through the T-Mobile partnership.” 

As the college distributed portions of the CARES funds to students, officials from the college surveyed students. Denese Skinner, the vice president for student affairs at Amarillo College, said through that process, officials heard about the student’s struggles, including students having to prioritize bills, including whether to pay rent or pay the internet bill. 

“Where that started, that I knew it was a need, was back during COVID. We were doing a lot of interacting with our students. The students were applying for emergency aid and we interviewed every single student that applied for emergency aid on the phone, just to find out in detail rather than just filling out a form,” she said. “Many of the students we talked to, the internet, paying for their internet was the difficult piece… The internet access was one of the ones that we found that we were having to fund a lot through the COVID funding.” 

After some initial conversations, Clunis said that T-Mobile reached out to Amarillo College about the program. Over the last semester, devices were given out to a number of students and faculty, seeing the level of connectivity around town, as well as on the college’s campuses in Hereford and in Moore County. 

Ultimately, this program impacts the students and their ability to learn, Clunis said. 

“We’re wanting our students to be in a safe environment. We want them to be able to get their schoolwork done in a timely manner,” she said. “We’ve had students who’ve had their service turned off in the middle of the semester. We’ve had students who were using their hotspot on their current service and they reached their daily limit, and it started tethering and slowing down the speed and they ended up failing the exam.” 

But by having this program, Clunis said it also helps the college as a whole be more cost-effective, not having the need to keep the computer lab open 24 hours a day. She stressed how this initiative aimed at students also helps the college’s faculty. 

“We do hope that it will allow our faculty to be able to focus on the job of instruction and not having to, you know, deal with students that require accommodations because they had internet connectivity problems, or they couldn’t complete an exam, or their internet was turned off because they didn’t have the funds to pay for it,” she said .”So, this helps to improve the relationship and the workload of our faculty by not having to manage it, because we’re actually providing this service.” 

With COVID-19 causing the educational landscape to change, officials hope that this initiative helps close the equity gap of those who have access to the internet and those without. 

“These are the types of things that were the barriers we’re trying to remove for students so that they can complete their education at Amarillo College with the best experience possible,” Clunis said. “Internet connectivity is just so important.”  

Clunis said the college hopes to sustain the program with grant funds after the CARES funds cover its first semester.

This is a partnership that officials with T-Mobile are proud to be a part of, Bezzant said.

“T-Mobile and Amarillo College share a commitment to help advance learning and ensure students have what they need to be successful,” he said. “We are proud to team up with Amarillo College to provide 5G wireless connectivity and 5G devices to help their students achieve their goals without having to worry about how they are going to access the internet.”

For more information, visit the Amarillo College website

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