Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

First Advisor

Richard Shrubb


Higher education is at a crossroads. An enrollment cliff (Kline, 2019) looms and global instability only exacerbates the need for higher and continuing education. The global COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 highlighted the problem, and despite the evolutions in technology and Internet connectivity, there is still a chasm regarding equity of digital access. This applied dissertation study examined the barriers that exist for returning adult students to higher education and the digital divide in Louisiana. The study focused on the potential adult student population of Louisiana who have some college experience but no bachelor’s degree. Designed using archival research methods, the study uses maps for ecological modeling. The extent to which the digital divide impacts the potential adult student population of the state of Louisiana was explored through ecological models in the form of maps created using openly sourced government data (the ACS and the FCC Form 477). The theoretical considerations of population ecology and a theory about the digital divide, van Dijk’s resources and appropriation theory were explored. As well as two conceptual frameworks, the Spatially Aware Technology Utilization Model (SATUM) and the Three Domains of Sustainability used to frame the interpretation that conclude that access, ability, and affordability are the three domains required for stability and use of the Internet. The results from the study found that both geographic location and socio-economic characteristics do seem to impact access to the Internet. The analysis includes recommendations for addressing barriers to adult student recruitment and retention through the three components needed to create organizational stability: environmental factors, social factors, and economic factors.