Education and home Internet go hand in hand. And equalizing access to educational resources is one of the most important benefits of a home Internet connection. That’s precisely why we first offered Internet Essentials to low-income families with children from Head Start through 12th grade. Education, however, doesn’t just end after high school. So, today, I had the privilege of joining Colorado Lieutenant Governor and Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education Joe Garcia and President of the Colorado Community College System Nancy McCallin, Ph.D., to announce that Comcast is extending Internet Essentials, on a pilot basis, to low-income community college students across Colorado. We also announced an Internet Essentials low-income community college pilot program in Illinois, home to one of the largest community college systems in the nation. To be eligible, students must be receiving a Federal Pell Grant — the nation’s largest need-based grant program.

According to the most recent data on community colleges from the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), nearly 40 percent of students attending two-year community colleges receive Federal Pell Grants. Specifically in Colorado and Illinois, more than 130,000 community college students attending schools within Comcast’s service area receive Pell Grants and would, therefore, be eligible to apply for Internet Essentials in this pilot program.

Community college is one of the most accessible paths to a post-secondary education. In fact, according to the NCES, community colleges educate about 40 percent of the nation’s post-secondary education students and serve an even higher proportion of nation’s low-income and non-traditional students. As a result, community college students are more likely to be employed, independent from their parents’ finances, have dependents, and be older.

Additionally, for many community college students, the path to receiving an associate’s degree is a struggle. According to Complete College America report, the average community college student takes 3.6 years to graduate, incurring an estimated additional cost in attendance and lost wages of over $80,000, on average. Beyond this, according to a National Student Clearinghouse Research Center report, only 39 percent of community college students graduate from two-year or four-year programs within six years. According to the NCES, the picture is even worse for low-income community college students. In fact, only 13 percent of students in the lowest income quartile who started at a two-year college completed an associate’s degree within six years.

By offering an affordable Internet connection and computer, Internet Essentials will enable students to access educational resources not just at school but also at home. In addition, Internet Essentials will link students to crucial digital literacy training programs that will not only help students as they study but will continue to have positive impacts on them after graduation. Don’t just take my word for it. Watch these two videos from Denver and Chicago.

Students need support at every level of their education, and extending Internet Essentials to community college students highlights our commitment to providing them the support they need, whether in elementary, middle, or high school, or pursuing post-secondary education. This is our number one community investment priority.

Extending Internet Essentials eligibility to community college students is the next step in working toward a goal of improving educational outcomes and connecting all Americans to the Internet at home.

Data underscores the positive impact of a community college education and earning an associate degree. In addition, recent research shows that having an associate degree versus a high school diploma increases the chance of being employed by 12 to 15 percent for men and 20 percent for women. Moreover, according to a study by the American Association for Community Colleges, an associate degree increases lifetime earnings by more than $400,000 nationally compared to just a high school diploma. When you look at the big picture, a lot is at stake here. The same study also found that in 2012 community college graduates added $809 billion in income to the U.S. economy in higher wages, increased productivity, and multiplier effects.

In 2011, I visited both Denver and Chicago and stood alongside Colorado Governor John W. Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, as well as with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and announced that Comcast would bring Internet Essentials to all of the communities we serve in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Since then, the Governor, Mayors, and other local officials, school districts in Denver and Aurora in Colorado and Chicago in Illinois (along with many others), and a host of community- and faith-based organizations have embraced the program and been steadfast champions of it year after year.

Their hard work has paid off. Colorado has the highest Internet Essentials participation rate in the country, with nearly 30 percent of eligible families having been connected. What’s remarkable is this is ten percentage points higher than the national average of 20 percent. Since 2011, nearly 24,000 Colorado families, or almost 100,000 individuals, have been connected to the Internet at home through Internet Essentials. In Chicago, we’ve connected 30,000 families, or about 120,000 individuals, more than any other individual city Comcast serves.

Nationally, we have connected more than 500,000 households, benefitting more than 2 million low-income Americans. This record is multiple orders of magnitude larger than all of the other private sector low-income Internet adoption programs, combined. Earlier this month, I was proud to announce that we are tackling another demographic and offering Internet Essentials to low-income seniors through pilot programs in Palm Beach County and San Francisco. It was great to be back in Colorado today, this time to announce yet another expansion of our digital inclusion efforts. We won’t stop here either, because there is still more good work to be done.