Parking lot hot spots succeed at PHCC
Administrators at Patrick Henry Community College hustled to install Wi-Fi hot spots in its parking lots in March when the college closed due to the coronavirus.
Since many of the college’s students live in rural areas without access to broadband, creating these hot spots became an immediate need when the pandemic crisis hit, explains PHCC President Angeline Godwin. “If you look at our entire service area in Henry County and Patrick County, we have large swaths of areas that may not have internet access at all, may even have cellular coverage issues. Even if they have internet access, it does not necessarily mean it’s robust enough to handle a full online educational program.”
Rachel Brown, 20, has high-speed internet at her Collinsville home, but she’s found it less than reliable. “It goes up and down,” she says. “It’s been out for a couple of days.”
During the summer session, Brown used the parking lot hot spot a few times when her home internet was on the fritz. “It’s easy for me to be in the comfort of my car and chill out, listen to my music and do my homework there,” she says.
As students in colleges and public K-12 schools across the state return to a mix of virtual and in-person learning, more institutions are considering how to make online education broadly accessible.
Patrick Henry’s process was inexpensive and relatively easy, the college says. Employees in the information technology department partnered with campus maintenance workers to get the hot spots up and running at a cost of a little over $7,000.
In July, the information technology department logged 75 connections made from the main campus lot, 100 at the Patrick County location and 10 at the Manufacturing, Engineering and Technology Complex, says David Deal, PHCC’s dean of technology. This fall, students will be able to choose from a menu of remote courses, hybrids that combine in-person classes with an online component, and classes held entirely in-person.
Earlier in the year, the Virginia Community College System opened a portal that lists all 10,000 of its classes offered online.
If the development of a COVID-19 vaccine means that PHCC can return to normal operations later, Godwin says the school still will benefit from having expanded Wi-Fi. “We think that’s a positive and a benefit for students and faculty and staff long-term.”