Morehouse and Microsoft’s Revolutionary Partnership to Address The Digital Divide

By Lilac Burrell, Managing Editor

Morehouse College released a statement outlining a partnership with Microsoft and UPS in April to help close the digital divide. The initiative equipped incoming Morehouse freshmen with free Microsoft Surface 2-in-1 tablets for their entire Morehouse matriculation. Interviews were held with Morehouse, Microsoft, and an affected student to gauge this revolutionary partnership’s impact.


“Now that college is coming around it’s forcing me to be more organized,” said freshman Kollin Washington, who intends to be a Cinema, Televsion, and Emerging Media Studies major. “I think I’d be far behind if I didn’t have the Surface Pro.”


Morehouse’s partnership gives first-year students a leg up on the digital divide. The digital divide is the gap between financially privileged and economically disadvantaged students regarding their access to the internet, computers, and Wi-Fi. Those resources are essential to learning.  This is a first step in helping low-income households overcome economic obstacles that have been exacerbated by COVID-19. Tablets are a vehicle for inclusion because some low-income households have limited resources to ensure their students thrive in a digital environment.


“Some 43% of lower-income parents with children whose schools shut down say it is very or somewhat likely their children will have to do schoolwork on their cell phones,” an April 2020 Pew Research Center Survey on U.S. adults said.


Assuming that all students with cell phones have smartphones is a privileged perspective. Low-income students without access to school computer labs, public libraries, nor smartphones are outrageously disadvantaged in this new digital environment. The digital divide impacts HBCU students. Twenty-five percent of them are low income.  


The Morehouse, Microsoft, and UPS partnership directly addresses the digital divide because more than 90 percent of Morehouse students are financial aid eligible. Sixty percent are eligible for Pell Grants and live in households earning $40,000 or less. The 2-in-1 tablets come with Windows 10, Teams, and education templates for students and faculty. Tablets aim to fully support a student’s academic and personal endeavors.


“I think this could be more about productivity off campus,” said José Mallabo, Vice President of the Office of Marketing, Communications, and Admissions.“We’ll see a natural migration with students’ professional work.”


Mallabo also believes students will use the tablets for personal endeavors like starting a business.  COVID-19 reoriented work and professional to digital interfaces. Providing students with technology has a ripple effect. Digital resources may help students stay connected with school work and zoom into the communication nuances that are products of social distancing. This partnership exemplifies Morehouse’s commitment to work with community stakeholders to address ongoing student needs in this new and often chaotic time. 


“We want to make sure that Morehouse has the same support from investors and philanthropists as PWIs and other institutions,” said Monique Dozier, Morehouse Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Chief Advancement Officer.


“If you’ve seen in recent years were trying to ensure we have great partners who support students so they have everything they need to be successful at Morehouse.” 


This partnership in the COVID-19 era highlights the necessity for community building. Where the pandemic displaced students from campus, digital resources allow students to substitute their campus-based community with cyber communities like social media. The Microsoft tablets are a vehicle to engage the freshman class with the Morehouse mission: developing men with disciplined minds who will lead lives of leadership and service. Targeting freshmen transitioning from high school to college through the pandemic was a decisive action to assist students who are most in need. Morehouse does not suggest freshmen needs trump upper-classmen needs. Rather, freshmen require more support with acclimatizing to college.