Increasing the availability of online classes is key to improving the state’s college graduation rate but Arkansas is last in the nation in the percentage of homes with Internet access and forty-sixth in the percentage of home with broadband access.

Most of Arkansas’s higher education institutions offer courses online. Last school year, Arkansas students enrolled in more than 10,000 web-based classes offered at Arkansas campuses. Increasing the availability of online classes is key to improving the state’s college graduation rate, according to a news release from State Sen. Jimmy Jeffress, State Rep. Eddie Cheatham, both Democrats from Crossett.

The trend has spread across the country. According to Pew Research Center, nearly half of all degree holders nationwide who graduated in the past ten years took a class online.

However, online classes are out of reach for many Arkansans in rural areas that don’t have broadband Internet access.

“As former educators, Representative Cheatham and I recognize the impact that technology has on learning at all levels,” Jeffress said. “Broadband allows students to overcome barriers and connect with their peers, with educational institutions and with the world.”

“We have some catching up to do,” Cheatham said, pointing out that Arkansas is last in the nation in the percentage of households with Internet access and forty-sixth in the percentage of homes with broadband access.

“The lack of broadband access threatens to hold back development in our rural communities,” Jeffress said. “It means more than providing access to education, it also means being able to compete for job opportunities.”

Publicly and privately funded groups have stepped up to identify high-need areas where the most work must be done to increase Arkansans’ access to wireless broadband services.

One group is the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA), a coalition that supports broadband availability for everyone, including in underserved and rural communities. IIA recognizes that access is essential for economic growth, and the state’s ability to compete nationally and globally.

“We are making progress,” Cheatham said.

Jeffress is chairman of the Senate Education Committee and Cheatham is chairman of the House Education Committee.