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Best Cities for Distance Learning as Students Gear Up for Fall 2020

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American schoolchildren transitioned to remote learning in spring 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it looks like some school districts will be resuming online instruction for the fall semester, at least in part. For families in certain cities though, learning remotely comes with challenges to overcome, like lack of access to high-speed internet and the technology necessary to complete schoolwork outside of the classroom.

To rank which cities would be most conducive to a successful distance-learning environment, LendingTree researchers ranked the top 100 largest American cities based on seven factors: computer access, high-speed internet access, median rooms per household, walkability and bikeability scores, percent of households with children under 18 and housing costs.

Key findings

  • Plano, Texas is the best city for remote learning. Over 88% of households here have broadband internet access, the highest rate in the study. On top of that, nearly 90% of households have computer access. Of the seven tracked metrics, Plano ranks in the top 10 in five of them.
  • Chandler, Ariz., takes the No. 2 spot with a similar score profile to Plano. Most homes have broadband internet as well as computer access. Additionally over 35% of households here have children, which means that families in the area may be able to lean on one another for resources.
  • Lincoln, Neb. comes in third. This city has 5.7 rooms per household, the seventh-most in the study. More rooms mean more private space for every household member to work in peace.
  • One of the biggest differences across the cities is access to computers and high-speed internet. In Detroit, just 55% of households have access to a computer and 48% have access to high-speed internet. Compare that to Plano, where nearly 90% of households have a computer and 88% have access to high-speed internet.
  • Virginia is one of the best states for distance learning, with three cities (Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Arlington) appearing in the top 20.
  • Six of the bottom 10 ranked cities are in the South. The worst city for distance learning, Birmingham, Ala., ranked poorly across all our metrics.
  • The largest cities tended to rank in the bottom portion of the study. New York, Los Angeles and Chicago all rank in the 70s. Larger cities tend to have smaller homes while having a higher cost of living. San Jose is one exception, ranking No. 6 overall.

Families in select cities will have an easier time with remote learning

Parents with school-aged children have been impacted significantly by the coronavirus pandemic. A majority of parents of young children are in debt due to the coronavirus pandemic, and many of them have also become part-time stay-at-home teachers. Over 94% of households with children report classes were moved to distance learning. These parents spend nearly 14 hours per week helping their children with the teaching activities or interacting with teachers.

On top of that, parents and their school-aged children may have an easier (or more difficult) time adapting to distance learning based on where they live. Some cities have more widespread affordable broadband internet, meaning all members of the household can attend video conferences at the same time. Some cities have more affordable family-sized homes, which give children and their parents privacy when trying to learn and work from home.

Based on the above factors, LendingTree researchers determined where remote schooling would be easiest on families, and where it would be the most difficult:

Best cities for distance learning Worst cities for distance learning
1. Plano, Texas 100. Birmingham, Ala.
2. Chandler, Ariz. 99. Miami
3. Lincoln, Neb. 98. New Orleans
4. Colorado Springs, Colo. 97. Memphis, Tenn.
5. Virginia Beach, Va. 96. Cleveland
6. San Jose, Calif. 95. Paradise, Nev.
7. Chesapeake, Va. 94. Baton Rouge, La.
8. Anchorage, Alaska 93. St. Louis
9. Henderson, Nev. 92. Dallas
10. Omaha, Neb. 91. Newark, N.J.
Source: LendingTree

Computer, high-speed internet access vary widely across U.S. cities

Distance learning is difficult — if not altogether impossible — without access to a computer that has high-speed broadband internet capabilities. Many classrooms have gone completely virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic, meaning that students need to attend class over video conferencing. But for many families across the country, getting by without this type of technology is just part of life.

Four in 10 households in Birmingham (No. 100) don’t have computer access, and just over half don’t have access to high-speed internet. The numbers are similar in Detroit, Memphis, Tenn. and Cleveland.

Cities with poor computer and internet access
Percentage of households with computer access Percentage of households with high-speed internet access
88. Detroit 54.7% 47.9%
97. Memphis, Tenn. 56.2% 51.8%
100. Birmingham, Ala. 59.3% 51.9%
96. Cleveland 57.1% 55.8%
99. Miami 65.2% 54.5%
Source: LendingTree

Some cities are taking action to combat the lack of internet access before school starts back up for the fall 2020 semester. In Cleveland, for example, the local school district distributed thousands of internet hotspots as a temporary fix when the COVID-19 outbreak hit remote learners earlier this year, with a longer-term plan to guarantee broadband access to households with at least one school student living at home.

In contrast, students in the cities that ranked at the top of our list are already set up to succeed in the fall, since they have much higher rates of access to computers and high-speed internet. In Irvine, Calif., for instance, an area known as a hub for tech companies, about 95% of households have computer access, while 86% have access to high-speed internet. With the broadband infrastructure already in place, families with students in these cities will have an easier time adapting to distance learning, should it be necessary for the fall semester.

Cities with high rates of computer and internet access
Percentage of households with computer access Percentage of households with high-speed internet access
18. Irvine, Calif. 94.8% 85.6%
16. Arlington, Va. 90.7% 81.6%
12. Scottsdale, Ariz. 89.9% 78.4%
1. Plano, Texas 89.6% 88.1%
2. Chandler, Ariz. 88.8% 83.5%
Source: LendingTree

Other factors contribute to the ease of distance learning

Having a functional computer with a broadband internet connection is essential to remote schooling, but that’s not the only factor that makes it easier to learn from home. Remote learning is easier for students when they have the privacy, space and amenities needed to concentrate on their school work. That’s why we also examined the following factors when determining our rankings:

  • Number of rooms per household: With more room to spread out, students and parents can work and learn remotely at the same time, without having to share an office space.
  • Walkability and bikeability scores: Since students aren’t breaking for recess at the playground, it’s helpful to be able to get some outdoor activity in between lessons.
  • Percentage of households with kids under 18: With more families in the neighborhood, parents can lean on one another as a resource for distance learning.
  • Housing costs: A higher cost of living means that there’s less money left over in the family budget for distance learning supplies, like a computer chair or a new tablet.

Even under the best circumstances, it may be difficult for students to attend school from home when they want to go back to school, see their friends and interact with their teachers. But with access to the right technology and resources, remote learning can be a little less challenging.


In order to rank the best cities for remote learning, LendingTree researchers looked at the latest Census Bureau data (2018) for the largest 100 cities in America. We compared the cities across seven metrics:

  1. Percentage of households with computer access
  2. Percentage of households with high-speed broadband internet
  3. Median rooms per household
  4. Walkability score
  5. Bikeability score
  6. Percentage of households with school-aged children
  7. Housing costs as a percent of income

We then ranked each city in each metric. Using these rankings, we created a final score based on each city’s average ranking, giving a half weight to bike score and walkability score.


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