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With more classes transitioning to online this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, colleges and universities are increasing efforts to provide students with computers, WiFi hot spots and tech support.

Milwaukee Area Technical College announced July 14 expansion of a technology scholarship program with a $40,000 donation from American Family Insurance to ensure technology packages for MATC’s Promise students — new high school graduates or adults who qualify for free tuition due to financial need.

Thus far, MATC has already given out 1,300 Chromebooks and another 2,200 are on the way to help students. The Chromebooks cost MATC about $200. 

The technology package includes a Chromebook and a WiFi hot spot for students who lack computer access required to learn, especially during COVID-19. It allows one year of use to a student who does not have access.

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MATC plans to continue raising funds so all students who are in need of a Chromebook and WiFi hot spot are eligible to get one. 

“When we had to transition all of our classes online during the spring semester, we realized that many of our students really do not have what they need at home to access online learning and virtual learning,” said Laura Bray, executive director of the MATC College Foundation.

“We found that a lot of our students depend on our computer lab, even to participate in the classes. Just for people to have the lifeline to education that really is both computers and also connectivity, we started a conversation with American Family and other donors to get involved,” Bray said. 

After her personal outdated laptop stopped working, MATC student Nadeen Dias needed a Chromebook to finish her three spring semester classes. 

“It was a very easy process,” Dias said about the application process. Incoming and current students can apply for a Chromebook through an application portal. “It was just one form online to fill out.”

Dias, who studies cardiovascular technology at MATC, was not only able to get a Chromebook, but she was also able to get additional financial help from MATC to support her during the pandemic. 

Additionally, American Family donated $10,000 to MATC’s Foundation Dreamkeepers’ Fund for students experiencing an emergency, anywhere from job loss to unfortunate family circumstances. The foundation helps students by providing a grant.  

Bray said there has been an outpouring of need toward the Dreamkeepers’ fund because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Between the two, where you have the technology package that really is the lifeline for education and then you have a little bit of cushion, it can mean a student completing instead of dropping out,” Bray said. 

University of Wisconsin-Parkside students will be able to check out either an Apple or PC computers, as well as WiFi hot spots, at no cost. 

‘We are also doing remote tech support if students need assistance in getting that set up so they can continue to learn with their classes,” said Jessica Cole, interim chief of information at UW-Parkside. 

“We have a couple hundred (computers) on hand,” Cole said. ‘We’ll make sure we have enough available for students. We don’t want to turn any student down.” 

At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a majority of the academic support services have moved to an online environment. 

Tutoring sessions and supplemental instruction will be embedded into the same online platform classes will be on, said Brennan Olena, interim director of the UWM student success center. 

“It will be really easy for (students) to work on their course material, jump over to tutoring if they need it, and then jump back in,” he said. 

Scheduled tutoring sessions are available for students to sign up, but there will be recorded sessions students can access 24 hours a day. 

“We tutor for about 150 courses. By no means does it cover all of them (courses), but covers the main subjects that are kind of like the large lecture classes that students tend to struggle with,” Olena said. 

Students can attend virtual office hours their professors will set up for additional help as well. 

“Big picture, it’s making sure that students are staying focused on that goal. They have the goal of earning that college degree, and we have that goal of helping them to get there, so it’s making sure they stay focused and motivated to achieve that,” Olena said.  

Carol Sabbar, director of Library and Instructional Technology Services at Carthage College, said students who depend upon computer labs are able to receive loaned out computers. WiFi hot spots are also able to be given to those students who do not have ideal internet connectivity. 

For students who are on campus and need help with their computer, Sabbar said the information desk is working on a touchless service to help students, limiting the contact and physical touch of computers. 

Computers will be on a loan for the fall semester, with the hopes that the pandemic gets better for the start of second semester in January, Sabbar said. 

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