The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has awarded $10.6 million in grants as part of the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program (CMC).
The grant funding will go to five minority-serving institutions – Mount Saint Mary’s University (Calif.), New Mexico Highlands University, North Carolina Central University, Eastern University (Pa.), and the College of the Marshall Islands – to help the schools expand community technology hubs, upgrade classroom technology, and increase digital literacy skills.
“Minority-serving institutions are key drivers of digital skills education and workforce development programs for communities across the country. They need robust connectivity and resources to continue to provide support,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “This program will build digital capacity for colleges and universities that will deliver benefits to their students and fuel job creation and economic growth in their communities.”
The CMC grants are overseen by NTIA’s Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives and cover costs such as the purchase of high-speed Internet service and eligible equipment, the hiring and training of information technology personnel, and innovation and workforce development efforts.
The CMC program is part of the Biden administration’s Internet for All initiative, which is intended to connect everyone in America with affordable, reliable high-speed Internet service. The program specifically dedicates $268 million from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 for expanding high-speed Internet access and connectivity to eligible Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges or Universities (TCUs), minority-serving institutions (MSIs).
The College of the Marshall Islands (CMI) will use $1.7 million to help fund the CMU Broadband Access for Remote Learning Opportunities and Training Program (BARLO), which aims to ensure all eligible students and learning centers have access to broadband Internet access to “contribute to the improvement of standard of living by providing higher education to remote communities.”
Eastern University was awarded $2 million to fund its Hope Digital Literacy project. A press release from NTIA said the project will “leverage educational, institutional, and relational assets in the area and deepen neighborhood level trust to forge a digital opportunity community in the heart of North Philadelphia by resourcing, educating, equipping, and empowering Latinos and other low-income individuals to utilize digital tools to accomplish practical workforce, education, and health-related goals.”
Mount Saint Mary’s University, an all-woman school, will use $747,000 for its Technology Lending and Development Program. The program intends to provide more students with access to digital devices and increase their confidence with digital literacy.
New Mexico Highlands University will use $2.9 million in funding for its “Building Sustainable Technology and Equity Connected Communities through Youth and Adult Workforce Development: the Acequia and Land Grant Education” (ALGE) Project. The project will use digital technology to deliver a culturally responsive curriculum to underserved populations in northern New Mexico, as well as deliver culturally sustaining pedagogy to teachers of students in underserved populations.
North Carolina Central University also received $2.9 million and will use the funding for its Digital Equity Leadership Program, which aims to “directly address the lack of broadband access, connectivity, adoption, and equity at the university and surrounding anchor communities.” Through the program, the school will develop innovative ways to help residents in the anchor communities who may lack the digital literacy skills needed to seek, obtain, and retain employment, as well as to perform other tasks in daily life.