For many parents who split their time between 40-hour workweeks and taking care of their kids, the idea of continuing their education seems almost impossible. An online learning site called eLearners.com has helped parents overcome the three main barriers to returning to school: time, money, and lack of confidence, says Helen MacDermott, content director for eLearners.com. The site launched Project Working Mom 2010, a program created to award up to 285 full-tuition scholarships from eight accredited online institutions worth about $5 million in total to working mothers and fathers. Project Working Mom 2010 is the fourth in a series of programs run by eLearners.com to "tackle the crisis of the undereducated adult population in America."
Of parents ages 22 to 50, 19.6 percent of males and 20.4 percent of females had bachelor's degrees, according to 2009 data from the Census Bureau. (To view these or other tables of education data, visit the Current Population Survey Table Creator.) College degrees pay off in the long run: On average, adults with a bachelor's degree make $26,000 more annually than those with just a high school diploma, according to 2008 Census Bureau data. With tough economic times, more people are going back to school online to continue their education. More than 4.6 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2008 term, a 17 percent increase from 2007, according to a Sloan Survey of Online Learning report, "Learning on Demand: Online Education in the United States in 2009."
Project Working Mom started in reaction to the flood of more than 10,000 responses to an essay contest in the September 2007 issue of Women's World magazine for a $1,500 scholarship in conjunction with eLearners.com. The majority of respondents were single mothers, MacDermott says. "We learned how many single mothers put themselves on the back burners because they had families to raise. But as their children got older, they realized that they were no longer in a position where a high school diploma was enough. Any small amount of money would help them get back to school," she says.
However, MacDermott says eLearners.com didn't want to focus its efforts only on single working mothers because they weren't the only ones who needed help. After receiving letters from working fathers who wanted to be eligible to participate in the scholarship contest, she says, eLearners.com opened up the third series of scholarships to working fathers as well, calling it Project Working Mom . . . and Dad, Too." The scholarship does not require that a parent have a job in order to apply.
Heather Herrera is a recent recipient of a full-tuition, four-year scholarship for online education worth $66,000 from Virginia College, which has extensive online degree programs as well as 14 campuses across the South. She is pursuing a bachelor of science in business administration. Herrera graduated from high school and became pregnant the same year, and she says she didn't have the time or money to go directly to college. When her daughter was 1, she tried community college, but she eventually quit. Fourteen years later, Herrera lives in a town outside of Austin with her husband and two daughters. She says she likes the time flexibility of online classes and the convenience of working from home. "While my kids are in school, I do school," she says. "I like the online format; for me it's not as intimidating. In the classroom setting, I am more reserved and don't speak my mind as much. I feel more comfortable saying what I'm going to say if I'm typing it."
Jhonny Serrano, also a recipient of a full-tuition, four-year scholarship for online education from Virginia College, looks forward to the financial opportunities an online bachelor's degree can offer. He works in the information technology department at a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., during the day, and takes his online courses at night to pursue a bachelor of science in management information systems. Serrano, who immigrated from Colombia with his wife in 2002, had to start his higher education over in a new language after switching from a different degree path in Colombia. Serrano, who has a 2-year-old daughter to support, says his bachelor's degree will improve his financial stability and job security. He also enjoys the collaboration of the online classroom environment. "We have discussions every week about different topics. In this online environment, you're still building a relationship with others. The teachers are always motivating students."
Both Herrera and Serrano say that they not only enjoy being back in school but also love being strong role models for their children. MacDermott of eLearners.com says this has been true for many parents pursuing a degree through online programs. "These scholarship recipients fall in love with learning and have a renewed interest in learning for learning's sake. This impacts their parenting by showing the message that education is important."
Since it launched in January 2008, Project Working Mom has sent more than 150 working parents back to school through more than $6 million in full-tuition scholarships. The Project Working Mom 2010 scholarships have three separate deadlines: March 1, April 27, and September 30. The program will distribute close to 100 scholarships in each round, and applicants who aren't selected in one round can reapply for the next. Those who win a scholarship will be notified within a month after the deadline. To apply, go to ProjectWorkingMom.com, select the degree program and the school of interest, and write a short personal essay. No GPA or SAT scores are required.
To view videos of Herrera and Serrano talking about their experiences with online education, visit elearners.com/projectworkingmom/scholarship-recipients/.