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USC, Benedict College to open Apple computer labs in SC towns lacking broadband access

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COLUMBIA — To help spread internet access to students and residents statewide, the University of South Carolina and Benedict College will open computer labs, complete with technology courses, at eight sites across the Palmetto State.

The program, funded with $6 million from the state's allocation of federal coronavirus relief money, is aimed at K-12 students living in communities underserved by web access providers, according to Gov. Henry McMaster.

“The pandemic has made it abundantly clear that internet access is not a luxury but a necessity for millions of South Carolinians,” McMaster said in a statement. “The strategic placement of these labs will bolster South Carolina’s premier workforce training efforts by giving our communities and people access to resources they need to expand participation in our state’s growing economy.”

The labs are to be in Columbia’s BullStreet District, at Benedict College and at six of USC’s regional Palmetto College campuses.

The BullStreet District location will be the first to open with an operating budget of $2 million, said Bill Kirkland, who heads up USC's Office of Economic Engagement. The school is still in talks with the district's developer, Hughes Development Corp., about space for the site.

The exact Palmetto College sites also are still being decided upon, but all will be within 15 miles of neighborhoods without adequate broadband service, according to USC spokesman Jeff Stensland. And the schools are considering options to provide transportation to and from each location for students and members of the community who need it, Kirkland said.

Each site will be available for use by faculty, staff, students and community members at no cost. They will feature Apple products and technology courses.

“By providing access to Apple’s coding curriculum and emphasizing creative learning, this partnership is a game changer for our state. The educational programs and training at these learning centers will give South Carolinians relevant skills that are in high demand in today’s economy," said USC President Bob Caslen. 

These labs supplement another Office of Regulatory Staff program, which utilized CARES Act funds to expand broadband technology to more than 100 South Carolina schools and 200 communities. 

Also, Benedict College already serves as a community hub for coding as part of Apple’s Community Education Initiative.

“This is a tremendous step in the right direction,” Benedict College President Roslyn Clark Artis said of this latest program.

Reach Jessica Holdman at jholdman@postandcourier.com. Follow her @jmholdman on Twitter.

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