Closing the Digital Divide: North Carolina Community College System awarded $1.3 million to deploy digital navigators in rural counties across the state

Closing the Digital Divide: North Carolina Community College System awarded $1.3 million to deploy digital navigators in rural counties across the state

Monday, June 19, 2023 - 9:36am

The North Carolina Department of Information Technology has announced Digital Navigator Grants awarded to three major anchor institutions in the state, including the North Carolina Community College System, which will lead efforts in creating a Digital Navigator Certification.

The Digital Navigator Grant Program will help North Carolinians connect to high-speed internet, learn how to use digital devices, develop digital skills and enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program.

“All North Carolinians need the skills to safely access the internet and its many resources,” said Governor Roy Cooper. “Digital navigators will provide local assistance to help more people learn to use the internet for health, education and jobs.”

The System was awarded $1.3 million to do the following:

  • deploy trained digital navigators at 20 community colleges serving Tier 1 and 2 counties;
  • create a Spanish and English version of the Digital Navigator Certificate; and
  • recruit adults from communities most impacted by the digital divide to serve as digital navigators.

Gilda Rubio-Festa, Associate Vice President for College and Career Readiness (CCR) at the System, said the COVID-19 pandemic was the catalyst for this work.

“In the height of the pandemic, we knew we needed to become digital equity advocates,” she said. “CCR programs collaborated to close the digital divide and began digital equity work so adult education learners could fully access civic, employment, education, and health services. We were so thrilled to receive this award because it expands an essential component of digital inclusion activity.”

Digital Navigators assist communities to secure resources and referrals for internet connection, devices, and digital skills training. A Digital Navigator Certification will professionalize this role and can lead to more specialized training specific to industries such as healthcare.

“Community colleges are trusted members of their community and are positioned to target participation for this training from those who have been historically and systematically digitally excluded,” said Rubio-Festa.

The certification course will be offered online in collaboration with the Virtual Learning Community within the North Carolina Community College System and will be piloted in Fall 2023. The course will be offered in both English and Spanish.

“This award acknowledges the sustained work and commitment for digital inclusion to the communities we serve,” said Rubio-Festa. “Community colleges are experts in meeting industry training needs and have the capacity to bring to scale a Digital Navigator infrastructure which will set a national standard for this crucial role.”

The State Library of North Carolina and N.C. Cooperative Extension were the other two institutions that received grant funding.

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