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Northeastern Technical College finds a partner who helps make higher education accessible to rural communities during a pandemic — and beyond

The South Carolina counties of Chesterfield, Marlboro and Dillon are as rural as rural gets. Two-lane roads, many of which are unpaved, connect small, far-flung towns. Shopping centers are few and far between, and Dillon County is just about to get its very first Starbucks. The area's rural feel is amplified by the 46,000 acre Sand Hills State Forest in Chesterfield County, which grows pine trees for the paper industry. The average income falls below the national poverty rate, and many residents depend upon public transportation to get to work and access healthcare and other critical services.

Against this backdrop lies Northeastern Technical College (NETC), a four-campus public community college that offers occupational, technical, college transfer, basic academic skills and continuing education programs to the region's adult residents and high school students. NETC believes deeply in the impact higher education can have on the community at large, and is on a mission to make education accessible and affordable to as many people as possible in the counties it serves, where 93 percent of residents don't hold Associates or Bachelor's degrees.

When Dr. Kyle Wagner joined NETC as president in 2016, he decided to implement a student-centered approach that puts students and their needs first, and builds programs and processes around those needs. And he knew that for his students to succeed, the school had to address the barriers associated with economic status, transportation and childcare. Wagner believed the solution to overcoming these barriers was technology delivered over a reliable network to enable off-campus learning anytime and anywhere.

NETC already had a remote learning program in place, but Wagner built a multi-year plan to expand its scope. "The degrees, certifications and education offered by Northeastern Technical College can be a first step toward a higher-paying career," he says. "But for too many potential students, easy access to education was holding them back from these opportunities. We were committed to changing that."

In March 2020, the school's remote learning expansion plan suddenly accelerated when South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster issued a directive to close college campuses because of COVID-19. Internet access for every single student was suddenly an urgent need. NETC staff mobilized quickly and chose to collaborate with Spectrum Enterprise to provide a 100 percent remote learning environment. It was the beginning of a partnership that is now giving NETC students — and the community at-large — a leg up in the world.

As a plan forms, a partner is needed
The challenges were seemingly insurmountable: The school surveyed its students and found out that only 30 percent of them had access to high-speed Internet in their homes or the means to pay for it.

Wagner tapped Mamie Harris, the school's longtime consultant and owner of the education consultancy SCI-Premier Solutions, LLC. For years, she's helped the college develop strategies and process improvements to address the needs of unserved students within the community and connect them to higher education.

Together, they identified and analyzed where students live across the three counties NETC serves. Then they overlaid Internet service providers, mapping out the availability of more than 500 student home addresses to determine which were serviceable.
What they found was that Spectrum Enterprise would be able to provide connectivity to many of the students through its existing service area. While Spectrum Enterprise met this initial requirement, Wagner knew the school needed a partner built to help organizations execute on their vision and work quickly, so he brought a local Spectrum Enterprise team to the table to determine if they were the right fit.

A strong vision sets a plan in motion
During initial meetings with the Spectrum Enterprise team, Wagner communicated his vision for a connectivity program that would be provided at no cost to students through a grant, donations and other sources. The program needed to be supported by a technology solution that could deliver the reliable connectivity required to provide live online classes, course replays and any necessary tutoring from students' homes.

"We didn't want to take away from that face-to-face feeling of the classroom," says Wagner. "Our students use videoconferencing applications to collaborate on projects, and we needed a solution that would enable that." And, Wagner stressed to the team, the connectivity solution needed to be easy for students to implement and administer themselves.

NETC and Spectrum Enterprise moved quickly to design a program that would enable the school to provide high-speed broadband connectivity directly to every serviceable student home. "By listening and understanding NETC's challenges, we came together to determine how Spectrum Enterprise could best serve the college and its student population," says Kristin Perkinson, Spectrum Enterprise strategic account specialist.

A program that sets NETC and its students up for success
Together, NETC and Spectrum Enterprise created a program in which each participating student receives equipment for broadband Internet with download speeds up to 200 Mbps in his or her home.

Each student is provided with simple installation instructions along with a toll-free number for Spectrum Enterprise technical support in case help is needed during installation, or at any other time. Students unable to get the equipment working after calling technical support can request that a Spectrum Enterprise support specialist come to their home.

Tight collaboration between NETC and Spectrum Enterprise enabled the program to launch in just three weeks. "Spectrum Enterprise is a great partner. We were pretty demanding because we knew exactly what the student was going to need," says Wagner. "Everything they said they could do, they made happen. It's been a terrific relationship."

Harris also felt Spectrum Enterprise became a part of the team. "We have been working so closely that it feels like Spectrum Enterprise is an extension of the college."

Today, students attend classes that are livestreamed through videoconferencing applications, and they're able to review them later through recordings as needed. They're also able to virtually collaborate on group projects and meet with tutors.

Student response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive since launch, and they've found benefits to connectivity they didn't expect. NETC found the average student spends $900 annually on textbooks. Now, many courses can be supported with open educational resources, which are available for free online. But more importantly, the program has changed their outlook. "Most of our students thought having Internet access in their homes was a luxury. Now they're saying it's a necessity," says Wagner.

For the school, the mission was to bring connectivity to student homes so students would have access to more education, training and opportunities. However, the institution has also realized another benefit. The new program has increased enrollment 26 percent over last summer, says Wagner.

NETC plans to make Internet services and remote learning permanent offerings for students. "Even when we're allowed to come back on campus, we'll be utilizing distance learning," says Wagner. "And if we want to address poverty, if we want to help people improve their lives, that access to education is key."

About Spectrum Enterprise
Spectrum Enterprise, a part of Charter Communications, Inc., is a national provider of scalable, fiber technology solutions serving America's largest businesses and communications service providers. The broad Spectrum Enterprise portfolio includes networking and managed services solutions: Internet access, Ethernet access and networks, Voice and TV solutions. Spectrum Enterprise's industry-leading team of experts works closely with clients to achieve greater business success by providing solutions designed to meet their evolving needs. More information about Spectrum Enterprise can be found at

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  • Kayla Gibson, Dual Credit Student:

    Taking classes at Northeastern Technical College while in high school has helped prepare me for the College of Charleston by earning credits that I will need for my major. I will be entering the College of... Read More about Kayla

  • Cynthia Hulon, Educational Mentor:

    I received individualized attention from my instructors at Northeastern Technical College when I was going through the business program. NETC's faculty and staff members are very friendly and accommodating, and they really care about their students.... Read More about Cynthia

  • Anissa Keith, NETC Alumna:

    Going to Northeastern Technical College allowed me to work a full-time job, be at home with my child and live in my community. At NETC, you are more than just a number in a classroom. The... Read More about Anissa

  • Jonathan Rivers, Farmer:

    Going to NETC, which is exactly 17 miles from my home, was convenient. I could live at home and go to school, which was a lot more affordable for me than going off to college elsewhere.... Read More about Jonathan

  • Santrice Hailey, NETC Alumna:

    Northeastern Technical College was my pathway to a better life. NETC was directly involved in getting me where I am today and having the job that I am so passionate about.... Read More about Santrice

  • Tony Knight, Printer of T-Riffic Promotions:

    NETC was my pathway to a broad range of knowledge that has allowed me to pursue my dream of owning my own business. NETC is a great starting point for people who are undecided about their... Read More about Tony

  • Trevor Gilchrist, Former Dual Credit Student:

    Being a part of the Dual Enrollment program at NETC allowed me to not only graduate in four years from college, but also see the world. By gaining a head start in my college career through... Read More about Trevor

  • Hester Ellerbe, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor:

    Life is a journey, and NETC was my starting point on my pathway to a rewarding career in social work. NETC can be a starting point for many who are ready to start pushing for an... Read More about Hester

  • Larry McNeil, Chief of Police:

    The education I received at Northeastern Technical College was my pathway to a fulfilling, exciting and successful career in law enforcement. Had I not started at NETC, I would never have achieved my position as chief.... Read More about Larry

  • Alanda LeGrand, Cosmetology instructor:

    I tell my students all the time that they need to pursue an associate degree and not just rely on the cosmetology certificate. A two-year degree can be their pathway to another job if they do... Read More about Alanda

  • Chad Hood of Lineman:

    If you live in Chesterfield, Marlboro or Dillon counties and you're having a hard time finding work, there's no reason not to start you­r education at Northeastern Technical College.... Read More about Chad

  • Caroline Sylvia, Former Dual Credit Student:

    I am thankful for the opportunity I had to take dual credit classes at NETC. Not only did they help me prepare for college level course work and scheduling, the college credits I earned at NETC... Read More about Caroline

  • Frank Ponce, Movie Director:

    I have a passion to create. I'm not just doing this because of the money, the fame or power. It is truly my passion. I am an artist, and I will always create to make people... Read More about Frank

  • Jarrett Davis, Electronics student:

    By enrolling in the Industrial Electronics program at NETC, I am pursuing the dream I’ve had for a long time of becoming an electrician. Going to school at NETC and learning these advanced skills has been... Read More about Jarrett

  • Emily Williams, NETC Alumna:

    I knew I wanted to study law, and Northeastern Technical College offered the pathway to becoming a legal office assistant. The smaller classes and the support services offered by NETC really met my needs and allowed... Read More about Emily

  • Josh Thomas, INA Apprentice:

    NETC is my pathway to a college degree and a better life. It has helped me define my career plans and pursue a job in machine tool technology where I can use my problem solving skills.... Read More about Josh

  • Tommy Pegues, Registered Nurse:

    Northeastern Technical College was close to home and my job, and it was affordable. It was my starting place. With this nursing degree from NETC, I can branch out and go anywhere.... Read More about Tommy

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