COLUMBIA, S.C. — Gov. Henry McMaster announced that the University of South Carolina system and Benedict College are working with Apple to provide critical infrastructure support to students and communities throughout South Carolina who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. McMaster approved the use of $6 million out of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund — part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020 — to provide underserved communities with additional resources, including technology and educational programing, to help those whose education or economic situation has been disrupted by COVID-19.

The collaboration will build a new network of learning labs that will feature Apple products and curricula. The network will include hubs in Columbia’s BullStreet District and at Benedict College, along with satellite labs at six of UofSC’s regional Palmetto College campus sites. UofSC Palmetto College campuses are all located within 15 miles or less of a broadband desert, according to the South Carolina Broadband Map, providing reliable technology and internet access to these communities. These labs supplement the statewide efforts undertaken by the Office of Regulatory Staff, which utilized CARES Act funds to expand broadband technology to over 100 South Carolina schools and over 200 communities. This initiative reflects a statewide effort to level the playing field and ensure that all South Carolinians have access to top-tier computing and educational resources.

“The pandemic has made it abundantly clear that internet access is not a luxury but a necessity for millions of South Carolinians,” said McMaster. “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.”

UofSC serves the entire state of South Carolina, and this investment in traditionally underserved communities reflects that mission. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted these communities and has made the issue of access to technologies, such as broadband, even more apparent. Studies have confirmed that students from economically stressed areas are more likely to be attending school remotely during the pandemic. By leveraging the expertise of the UofSC system and Benedict College, students and community members will be able to take advantage of educational programming designed to close the computer literacy and skills gap.

“As the state’s flagship institution, the University of South Carolina is committed to enhancing statewide economic and workforce development initiatives,” said UofSC President Bob Caslen. “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. We are proud to partner with Gov. McMaster, Benedict College, and Apple in this mission of investing in underserved communities across the state.”

Each of the campuses will provide computer lab space and will design educational programming to serve the communities in which they reside. The collaboration chose Apple products including Mac and iPad to facilitate ease of use and access to unique curricula and experiences that will power the future workforce, including coding and app development, creativity, and content creation. Each site will be available for use by faculty, staff, students, and community members on a regular and recurring basis at no cost. Availability of the labs and programs will be advertised in each community. Indeed, it was the focus on community impact which drove UofSC and Benedict College to partner and propose this initiative to McMaster.

"At Apple, we believe education is the great equalizer, and that access to technology is key to learning and workforce opportunities today,” said Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of worldwide developer relations and enterprise and education marketing. “We are proud that Apple products and curriculum have been selected by the University of South Carolina and Benedict College for their new education labs. Together, we aim to ensure all South Carolinians have the opportunity to learn, code, create, and grow in new ways."

“We are pleased to partner with the University of South Carolina to expand educational technology access to communities around the state,” said Roslyn Clark Artis, president of Benedict College. “Benedict College remains fully committed to narrowing the digital divide for underserved communities in our state. This is a tremendous step in the right direction.”