The Best Cities for Remote Learning

animated student learning virtually in a digital classroom

Across the country, we’re witnessing an education revolution. Grappling with contact restrictions due to the pandemic, our nation’s educators have had to make immense and rapid adjustments to how they teach. For some classrooms, that means seating children six feet apart and stationing teachers behind plexiglass. For other school districts, the safest option for their community was to move to fully remote learning.

At Grand Canyon University, we’ve incorporated online learning into our course work for years. We value the opportunity technology offers to empower students through flexibility and connection. Therefore, we’ve been especially hopeful that other primary and secondary schools across the country have been able to find similar opportunities in newly created remote learning systems. Still, we know that there are multiple barriers to success in remote learning.

With this on our mind, and with help from our partner Grand Canyon Education, we decided to do a state-by-state analysis of the best and worst-equipped cities for remote learning, so as to indicate which environments present the best opportunity for remote learning to succeed. To do so, we compared 50 major U.S. cities based on nine factors that indicate an opportunity for success in online education. Each factor was given a rating, and individual ratings were weighted to determine a score out of a possible 100 points.

The factors considered were:

  1. Percentage of Citywide Households With a Home Computer
    • Source: U.S. Census Bureau1
    • Weight: 1.25
  2. Percentage of Citywide with a Broadband Internet Subscription
    • Source: U.S. Census Bureau2
    • Weight: 1.25
  3. Average Persons per Household
    • Source: U.S. Census Bureau3
    • Weight: 1.25
  4. Median Household Income
    • Source: U.S. Census Bureau4
    • Weight: 1.25
  5. Average Hourly Tutor Rate
    • Source: Find Tutors Near Me5
    • Weight: 1
  6. Average Annual Cost of Infant Care
    • Source: EPI.org6
    • Weight: 1
  7. Percentage of Children (aged 2-17) Ever Diagnosed with ADHD
    • Source: CDC.gov7
    • Weight: .5
  8. Statewide Public School Spending Per Student
    • Source: World Population Review8
    • Weight: 1.25
  9. Statewide Percentage of Children in Poverty
    • Source: KidsCount.org9
    • Weight: 1.25

*Note: One of the factors used in our analysis was the prevalence of ADHD in children by state. Recent research has indicated that 31% of parents of kids with ADHD described remote learning as “very challenging” and struggled to support their children at home10. Due to this research, our ranking operates under the assumption that cities with more families that don't have children diagnosed with ADHD would have a higher success rate with remote learning.

Based on our calculations, here are the cities most and least-equipped for the challenges of remote learning.

The Most-Equipped U.S. Cities for Remote Learning

The Best Cities for Remote Learning Map

First, we’ll share the overall most-equipped cities for remote learning. According to our study, the best city for virtual learning is Seattle, Washington. Seattle scored 76.2 out of a possible 100 points on our scale. Sure enough, Seattle Public Schools11 started the 2020-21 school year remotely.

What contributes to Seattle’s unique opportunity for student success? According to the United States Census Bureau, median household income in the city is over $85,000, which enables families to pay for proper Wi-Fi and computers as well as assistance like childcare and tutoring--all of which make remote learning easier for students.

Other cities in the Pacific Northwest, which have markedly high median incomes and internet access, also made the top of the list for remote learning potential. Among them were Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, California, which both ranked in the top five cities for remote learning.

However, success wasn’t limited just to a single region of the country. Cities ranging from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Austin, Texas to Tampa, Florida ranked on the top of the list. One thing worth noting is that for all of these top 20 cities, the median household income was at least $50,900, allowing for more income per student to be spent in allowing remote learning success.

The Least-Equipped U.S. Cities for Remote Learning

 The Worst Cities for Remote Learning Map

On the other hand, the least-equipped city for remote learning, according to our ranking, was Detroit, Michigan, which scored only 37.3 out of a possible 100 points. A number of factors including over 20% of households without computer access and a citywide median household income of $29,481 impacted Detroit’s score. As reported by the Detroit Free Press, resurgence of COVID-19 infections across the city forced schools back online later into the 2020-21 school year, an unfortunate challenge for many families looking to support education.

Other low-scoring cities included Memphis, Tennessee; New Orleans, Louisiana and Miami, Florida. Notably, all of the cities included in the top 10 least-equipped cities for remote learning had average tutoring costs of at least $39 per hour. That means that for families looking to add individualized support to their children’s education, the cost may not be attainable.

 The Cities with Highest Population Under 18 Years Old Map

Finally, we know that while some cities aren’t well-equipped for remote learning, educational support funding may not be a top priority for policymakers. Therefore, we decided to look at the cities on the list with the highest percentage of the population under 18 years of age. We saw this as an indication of the cities with the most at stake in success or failure in remote education.

At the top of the list was Salt Lake City, Utah, where over 27% of the population is under 18 years of age. Interestingly, despite this high percentage of young people, Salt Lake City was not listed as one of the top 20 cities in terms of remote learning resources, suggesting a need gap for this vast number of students in the area.

In fact, some of the cities with the greatest percentage of the population consisting of K-12-aged students, were included in the bottom 20 cities for remote learning resources, including Memphis, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and San Antonio, Texas.

Overall, our analysis made it quite clear that across the country, cities can be doing a better job of setting students up for success in a digital classroom. Even the highest-ranking cities still scored significantly less than the possible 100 points, suggesting areas to improve across the board.

Still, there are many things students can do to be successful online. As we noted in a blog post on succeeding in GCU online programs, students can set themselves up for success by eliminating distractions if possible and managing time to allow for digital exhaustion. We applaud all the online students and educators out there for their commitment to learning no matter what.

Retrieved from:

1 in November 2020.

2 in November 2020.

3 in November 2020.

4 in November 2020.

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6 in November 2020.

7 in November 2020.

8 in November 2020.

9,37,871,870,573,869,36,868,867,133/any/321,322 in November 2020.

10 in November 2020.

11 in November 2020.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.