With the rise in distance learning, the 2020 school year highlighted the need for in-home Internet access for K-12 students nationwide. New research from the National Center for Education Statistics found that household internet access for K-12 students is closely tied to household socioeconomic status.
Generally speaking, the higher the level of parental education attainment, the higher the percentage of K-12 students with home internet access. Looking to 2019 data, the percentage with home internet access was highest for those whose parents had attained a bachelor’s or higher degree (99 percent) and lowest for those whose parents had less than a high school credential (83 percent).
While overall internet access may be high, the way students can access the internet in their homes varies based on socioeconomic status.
The majority of students – 88 percent – had access through a computer and 6 percent relied on a smartphone for their home internet access. According to 2019 data, the higher the level of parental educational attainment, the lower the percentage of 3- to 18-year-olds who relied on a smartphone for their home internet access. Similarly, the higher the level of family income, the lower the percentage of students who relied on a smartphone for their home internet access.
“The pre-pandemic data … suggest[s] that not all students would have been in a position to take advantage of these remote classrooms, and that this would be true of a higher percentage of students whose parents had lower incomes or lower levels of educational attainment,” the report says.
To help overcome the divide between internet access and device use, schools and districts began providing computers and home internet access during the pandemic.
According to 2020 data, 59 percent of adults with children in the home enrolled in school reported that computers were provided by their school or district. This percentage was generally higher for those with lower 2019 household incomes, ranging from 68 percent for adults with household incomes below $25,000 to 50 percent for adults with household incomes over $150,000.
A similar pattern was also observed for internet access. Overall, 4 percent of adults said internet access was paid for by their students’ district or school, ranging from 8 percent for adults in the lowest household income range to about 1 percent for those in the highest household income range.
Despite increased assistance, socioeconomic inequalities continued to create a digital divide. Even in 2020, the percentage of adults who reported that access to in-home computers and internet were always or usually available increased with household income.
Based on September 2020 data, the percentage of adults reporting that computers were always or usually available was highest for the two household income levels at or above $100,000 and lowest for the two household income levels below $50,000. Similarly, the percentage of adults reporting that internet access was always or usually available was higher for the three household income levels at or above $75,000 than for the three household income levels below $75,000.