For working moms, a way to connect with college
About 40 mothers are receiving scholarships from Project Working Mom to earn degrees online.
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A similar scholarship project for men may be developed down the road, says Ms. MacDermott of eLearners.com, but the focus for now is on women because they tend to fare less well economically as heads of households. The project hopes to break the low-wage cycle, since people who earn a bachelor's degree earn significantly more than those with just a high school diploma.Skip to next paragraph
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When Ms. Payne stopped school to have her baby, she had already learned some hard lessons about the need to focus on academics rather than extracurriculars. She had nearly dropped out of college early on, but an administrator who shared a similar story helped her turn things around. In Orlando, working part time at a bank, Payne was determined to finish her degree at another university, but it would have meant traveling 45 minutes each way for some courses.
She says she's shocked and grateful to have won a scholarship from the online branch of AIU, based in suburban Chicago. She plans to take business and Web-design courses and to someday start a company.
Payne looks back at a series of painful experiences and seemingly wasted time, but she says they've made her stronger. "If I had never decided I was going to find out who I was and be that person ... then I would serve no purpose for my daughter. She needs to see she can fulfill all her goals ... because I've been through so much and I've done it." Now six months old, Laila sits on Payne's lap when she's at the computer: "She likes to help me type," she jokes.
Many of the applicants share that desire to be a good educational role model for their children, MacDermott says.
For the essay reviewers at Walden University, the stories that stand out most are from people who aren't only in need, but who also "talk about how they may choose to use their degrees for the betterment of their community or even their family life," says Jerry Sweitzer, a Walden spokesman. Because most of Walden's students are working adults, he says, "they can share best practices [from around the world] ... and take what they are learning right back to their job."
Before people jump into online courses, they should make sure it's a good fit, MacDermott says. "The flexibility is great, but ... you have to be judicious with your use of time and extremely self-motivated," she says. The retention rate for online courses at community colleges is 72 percent, compared with 78 percent for in-person classes, reports the Instructional Technology Council, which works with colleges engaged in distance learning.
For Jen Schwartz of Salt Lake City, earning a master's in education from AIU was a perfect solution when she and her husband had four young children. She felt encouraged by professors and fellow students who were always accessible by e-mail. "I don't think I wrote a single paper where I didn't have a baby nursing on my lap at some point ... and you can't do that when you're up at the University of Utah," she says.
She completed the intensive degree last August after just 10 months, paid for with some inheritance money. But for people who can't swing the tuition on their own, Project Working Mom plans to offer a second round of scholarships this fall.