Michigan’s Digital Divide


The COVID-19 pandemic and related school closures highlighted Michigan’s longstanding digital divide. In communities across the state, access to devices and reliable broadband varied greatly.

State leaders can play a leading role in ensuring equitable access to technology – a critical baseline so that students can access high-quality virtual instruction, aligned with career- and college-ready standards during periods of school closure. This could includes internet subsidies, Wi-Fi hot spots, devices for students and educators, and ongoing support for using those devices.

Closing the digital divide is critical for creating access to virtual instruction, however, much more will be needed to ensure that educators are supported to provide high-quality instruction in a virtual environment. This includes access to digital tools and curricula that are high-quality and align to Michigan’s career- and college-ready standards.

As state and school leaders take necessary steps to improve access to and quality of virtual instruction, it should also be viewed as a supplement to traditional classroom learning, rather than a substitute for in-person instruction. Existing research on the effectiveness of virtual schooling shows the limitations of this approach and the need for close attention to the quality of instruction and additional student supports.

Variable Definitions and Sources:

Variable  Definition  Source & Date 
Total Enrollment  Number of K-12 students  MI School Data (Fall 2018) 
Percent of Students Without Digital Access  Percentage of residents under age 18 who have a computer in the home but no internet subscription, or who do not have a computer in the home  American Community Survey (2018 5-year estimates) 
Percent Low-Income Students  Percentage of K-12 students who are eligible for free or reducedprice lunch  MI School Data (Fall 2018) 
Percent Students of Color  Percentage of K-12 students who are any race/ethnicity other than White  MI School Data (Fall 2018) 
Percent COVID Deaths in County  Number of county COVID-19 deaths as a percentage of county population  New York Times COVID data repository (6/1/2020) and American Community Survey (2018 5-year estimates) 


Michigan’s Digital Divide Map was created in partnership with an analyst team from Harvard College Data Analytics Groups (HCDAG) including Evelyn Cai, Maanasa KazaBritteny Okorom-Achuonye and Leila Wass and Education Trust-Midwest policy fellow, Mike Arbit. 

Senior data and policy analysts, Mary Grech and Jacqueline Gardner were key staff members for this project.