We’ve been hearing about how education can build a better workforce and attract new businesses to an area. But what can towns and regions do if they’re already behind other regions in education? Improve internet access, says the Rural Blog.

Broadband development in rural areas may not be an economic panacea, but could help bridge the education gap between rural and urban residents, according to two telecommunication scholars. Bringing broadband to rural areas provides the possibility “for rural residents to enroll in distance learning courses that will help them to become more competitive in the national and global marketplace,” Sharon Stover, director of the Telecommunications and Information Policy Institute at the University of Texas, and Nick Muntean, a doctoral student in UT’s Radio-Television-Film Department, write for the Daily Yonder.

Distance learning could be especially attractive to rural areas because it doesn’t require students to leave home to go to college. Many rural students who go away to college never come back, the reporters write. Only 19.1 percent of the rural population has a bachelor’s or graduate degree compared to 29.8 percent of urban residents and 31.5 percent of suburban residents. “The best plan for creating new job opportunities in rural areas is to offer national and international businesses a new type of employee, one with a skill-set and level of education equal to those found in any other region in the world,” Stover and Muntean write.

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