Boost May Spur Research Boom for Shcolars of COLOR

By Roach, Ronald | Black Issues in Higher Education, July 8, 1999 | Go to article overview

Boost May Spur Research Boom for Shcolars of COLOR


Roach, Ronald, Black Issues in Higher Education


Boost MAY SPUR Research BOOM for Scholars of COLOR

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a major spending hike for the e-rate policy, in May, marking a significant boost to the controversial federal subsidy program that is helping wire many of the nation's poorest schools for Internet access. The boost comes at a time when e-rate supporters, such as the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Education Association, have become highly vocal in the belief that the federal government has a role in ensuring American children have equal access to computers and computer networks. (See Washington Update, pg. 9.)

For Dr. Paula Bagasao, the e-rate program and other federal initiatives in community and educational computer networking, represent, in part, a major research opportunity, particularly for scholars of color. Bagasao, who is director of information technology research at the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute (TRPI), in Claremont, Calif., says scholars interested in how minority and disadvantaged communities gain access to information technology are beginning to examine programs, such as e-rate, that invest in making technology publicly available.

"This issue is about the transformation of society. And the question is how are minorities and low-income people going to live in this new society," Bagasao says.

B. Keith Fulton, director of technology programs and policy at the National Urban League, says minority scholars can play an important role in helping communities understand the importance of e-rate funding and other national policies aimed at making information technology accessible.

"The average citizen has to have access to the infrastructure of the new economy. It's best to have that at home. But second best is having access in institutional settings, such as the schools and libraries," Fulton says. "The e-rate program is designed to increase technology access in institutional settings."

In less than three years, the controversial program that subsidizes advanced telecommunications services, such as Internet access, for school district and libraries has attracted an outspoken cadre of political allies as well as powerful opponents in Congress and among telecommunication companies. Scholars, though less visible than the political players, also have emerged as important figures in the e-rate policy debate.

Although it is relatively young, some scholars have begun assessing the impact the e-rate is having on poor and minority communities, and its effectiveness as public policy. Another group of scholars, largely individuals from education schools, is active in developing information-technology-enhanced teaching programs in school systems receiving e-rate subsidies.

Research has shown that Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American children who come from poor and disadvantaged school districts are less likely to have computers and the Internet in the home than children from wealthier areas. As a result, students in poor communities are more dependent on getting computer and Internet access at school than are affluent students, who are more likely to have computers in the school and at home.

"What's important for our institutions is that they build the capacity to do the research," Bagasao says.

Considered the nation's "premier Latino think tank," TPRI has examined information technology issues since 1986, according to Bagasao. TPRI, is affiliated with the Claremont Graduate University and the University of Texas-Austin.

Last year, Dr. Anthony Wilhelm, the former TPRI director of information technology research, and TPRI fellow Maria del Refugio Gutierrez produced a policy brief titled "How Will the E-Rate Impact Latinos? …

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