Online degree programs provide busy working adults with a practical pathway to a college education. By setting their own schedules and working from home, students with family and job responsibilities have the opportunity to earn a degree.
But as Thomas Edison, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."
Not so for two Saint Leo University students, Robin Meade and Becky Price – both single women employed full time and raising children.
They took advantage of the opportunity online learning offered to earn degrees by rolling up their sleeves and tackling the challenge one course and one day at a time.
As a result, they will be graduating this spring with bachelor's degrees in psychology.
Making time for school
Meade and Price are just two of 4.8 million undergraduate students nationwide who are raising dependent children while attending college. Meade has an 8-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter. Price has two teenage boys.
"The biggest challenge for me is time," says Price, who lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., and started her degree program in 2009 when her boys were 13 and 14 years old. "Getting my degree is something I really want to do, so I had to make the time."
Price is employed full time as a member service representative at a USAA insurance call center. When she's not working, preparing dinner or shuttling her boys to Boy Scout meetings or sports practices, she's studying. She attends class online by reading course materials, watching videos and participating in class discussion boards. She completes assignments after her sons are asleep or while waiting for them to finish sports practice.
"I try to get as much done as possible at the beginning of the week or plan ahead in case something comes up, so I don't find myself in a panic on Sunday night," Price says.
Meade's typical day is a similar balance of work, family and school responsibilities. She works full time as an assistant at a school library, makes sure her children complete their homework, takes them to and from extracurricular activities and prepares dinner. On Mondays and Tuesdays, she reads course materials. On Wednesdays, she writes discussion board posts. On Sundays, she finishes and submits other homework assignments.
"While we're at practice, I'm reading my textbook assignment for the week. I get homework done after they go to bed," says Meade, who lives in Florida.
"Knowing your limits"
Both Meade and Price take one class per class eight-week term.
Meade acknowledges that this approach requires more time to finish school, but helps her balance work, family, personal and school time. A lighter course load also enables her to concentrate on her studies so she does well in each class.
"The house isn't clean like I want it to be and I might get quick microwaveable food for the kids sometimes, but it's a matter of knowing your limits," she says.
Being a role model
Setting a good example for their children has been strong motivation for both women to persevere in their studies.
"Every eight weeks when I read the syllabus, I think, 'why am I doing this?' But then I look at my daughter and my son, and want to show them I'm not giving up," Meade says.
By watching their moms take challenging college courses, both Meade's and Price's children are learning it takes hard work to succeed in life.
"They've realized now that they're older that you have to put in the time to be successful," Price says. "They've also realized that in today's world, college is necessary. They understand there are a lot more opportunities in life if you go to college."
The hardest part: taking the first step
Going back to school can be scary for adult students – it was for Price.
"I was afraid I wouldn't be able to do it, that I wasn't smart enough to be back in school," she says.
"I was nervous about doing it online, too, because I'm not a computer person at all. I also had reservations that maybe I was wasting my time or it would be really hard and I would be discouraged, but it hasn't been like that all. It's been a great experience."
Price's first class confirmed she had made the right choice to return to college.
"I felt like there was a sense of community and help available if you needed it. You weren't on your own. There are lots of resources from Saint Leo, from the instructor and from the help desk.
"Even though you're not in a building, there's always someone there to help you."
Plus, many students in Saint Leo's online degree programs are in the same situation.
"They're all moms and dads, all busy with other things and most work full time, so in that way you know that they're experiencing the same struggles that you do," Price says.
The professors are supportive and understanding of students' personal situations, too.
"Every instructor I've had has been very supportive and made sure that if you had questions, they are available. The support through the school and other students has helped," Price says.
"I've enjoyed the professors," adds Meade. "The professors are very nice and they work with you."
Advice for other single parents
Ready to graduate this spring, neither Meade nor Price thinks she is finished with school. Both are considering master's degrees.
But for other single parents considering a return to college to earn bachelor's degrees, Price says, "You can definitely do it. It's achievable, and it goes by really fast."
"You have to take a leap of faith that you're doing the right thing," says Meade. "It may take longer to get through it, but once you get it done, there will be more opportunities for you than what you have now."
Are you a working mom who would like to earn a college degree? What's holding you back?
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