Officials consider plan to provide low cost phones, internet
By RYLEE MOORE
Amarillo College officials are working with T-Mobile to provide students with low-cost phones and internet access, said Dr. Tamara Clunis, vice president of academic affairs.
“We are in the process of vetting a vendor to offer our students low-cost telephone, text and unlimited data hotspot plans,” she said. “If approved, as a recommendation by the president’s cabinet, the board of regents would ultimately vote for approval. The program will operate in the same way as our laptop rental program. The student will basically ‘rent’ a phone from AC. It will come with a dedicated phone number for telephone calls and text messages and an unlimited data hotspot. Each phone will come with a case and screen protector,” Clunis said.
Any student on and off campus would have access to the program. She added that the unlimited data was selected specifically with online students in mind. The phones will also be pre-configured with AC applications such as AC Connect, Blackboard and AC’s website.
AC officials began work on the proposed plan after the Advocacy and Resource Center reported that students often request help with the cost of internet access. “It is a significant barrier that was magnified during COVID,” Denese Skinner, vice president of student affairs, said.
Skinner said the need for connectivity began long before the pandemic moved students to online learning. “Before March of 2020, it was not uncommon when our campus was closed to see students sitting around campus outside if the weather was nice or parked in their cars close to campus to have access to our Wi-Fi.”
The COVID pivot to remote learning caused the need for internet access to skyrocket. “Once COVID impacted AC, it became increasingly obvious that many of our students did not have the internet access they needed to easily interact within the new ecosystem of virtual learning. For some students, they had to drop their internet service due to loss of income as a result of reduced hours at work or job lay-offs,” she said.
Both Skinner and Clunis said this phone plan would benefit students tremendously, especially those who can’t afford internet, since the lack of connectivity creates a significant barrier to student success.
“The charge is approximately $33.00 a month and the student can charge a semester’s worth of service to their financial aid account or pay cash,” Clunis said. “The student is required to renew their ‘rental’ each semester until they graduate. When a student is purchasing their books for the semester, they can renew their phone agreement,” she continued.
The phone would be provided at no cost, but the students would pay for the monthly service. Because this plan would not be available through the public, students would not be able to transfer their number.
Amy Tucker, a nursing major, said, “That would be amazing,” but some students said they were concerned about privacy issues. Tre Byers, a mass media major, said he’s worried about how much control AC will have over the phone once they’re handed out to students.
“Safety and comfort to support an ideal learning environment is an important consideration,” said Clunis, adding that she would like students to let her know if the low-cost phone and internet proposal appeals to them.