StraighterLine Reports on Working Moms and Online Learning

How Working Moms Are Utilizing Online Learning to Go Back to School

By Evan Jones

Children are precious, but they require an awful lot of care and management. And they make a working mom’s schedule that much busier. Until very recently, going back to school for a working mom (especially if she was a single mother) was next to impossible. There just aren’t enough hours in a day to allow for work, kids, and attending classes on a regular basis. In fact, pregnancy was a major reason for college women being forced to drop out of school.

But all that has changed. With the introduction of the Internet and online education, the entire world can open up. Now a working mom can attend classes on her own schedule and still be available for her children, without spending many hours every week commuting to and from school. Online education is one reason why women’s enrollment in college has increased from a little over six million to eleven million since 1980.1

Rani Kota, majoring in Public Health, says, “I chose online classes because I can spend time with my family and work full-time and those were my main priorities ... With new technology, anyone can do it if they are willing to and can find a balance.”2

Changing times

The online student is likely to differ from the typical classroom student in a number of ways. For one thing, online students are likely to be older. They are more likely to be working. And they are more likely to have family responsibilities.3 No surprise here, because that highlights the advantages that distance education has to offer: namely, a flexible schedule, adaptable pacing, and the ability to do it all from home. And it is also true, as well we know, that older people who have been out in the world and shouldered real responsibilities are more mature, show greater initiative. My father noted that when he went to school on the G.I. Bill after World War II, the older students with families took their opportunity to attend college far more seriously, worked more responsibly, and (to no one’s surprise) did better in school.

Back in the 1960s, women were often not expected to work. But today, women make up nearly half the workforce, and 74% of them work full time. 40% of working women are employed in management or professional roles. That’s also reflected in the unemployment rate, which is two points lower for women than for men.4

Old obligations but new opportunities for working moms

More women attend college than men, but slightly more men graduate, and one reason women drop out is in order to raise their children. Yet a college degree is very important for success. Nearly half of women without any college don’t even have jobs. But over 70% with associate or bachelor’s degrees are employed. The unemployment rate for women with only high school diplomas is almost twice that of women with a bachelor’s degree: 8% vs. 4.5%. And usually, the better the education, the better the job.5

A normal college schedule may work well for women who do not have to support families. But for a working mom, a college education can be a huge advantage. Besides, unless she can schedule her own classes, eliminate the school commute, and nurture her kids all at the same time, going back to college isn’t practical.

Going to school online, however, removes many of the obstacles. But not all. There’s no doubt that you have to shop carefully when considering distance education, just as you would for a traditional college. As with any product, the standard will vary. As will the price. The cost of traditional colleges is skyrocketing. Even public colleges are feeling the pinch, thanks to the financial crisis. For example, in 2009 University of California school tuition shot up 32%6, and is set to go up another 8% for Fall 2011.7 College students can save thousands of dollars a year if they do it online.

1 U.S. Census Bureau, Higher Education – Institutions and Enrollment 1980 - 2006, Table 274

2 Keith L. Martin, Online courses aid working mothers, Maryland Community Newspapers Online,, Apr. 3, 2008.

3 I. Elaine Allen, Ph.D., Jeff Seaman, and Ph.D., Making the Grade: Online Education in the United States, Sloan Consortium, 2006, Feb. 2007, p. 2

4 United States Dept. of Labor, Quick Stats on Women Workers, 2009

5 Ibid.

6 Alan Duke, University of California students protest 32 percent tuition increase, CNN US, Nov. 19, 2009

7 Larry Gordon, UC regents approve 8% tuition increase for fall 2011, Los Angeles Times, November 18, 2010