Earning a degree has long been a dream of many working mothers. While it might seem the recession would put that dream even further out of reach for most, many working and single mothers are actually drawing inspiration from the economy to pursue their dream of getting a higher education.
"We are seeing an increase in the number of women returning to school," says Adena E. Johnston, campus dean of DeVry University's Philadelphia campus. "Degree completion programs are very popular for those who have not finished their education, but we're also seeing more questions about the bachelor's programs with an entrepreneurship specialty. Women seem to want to learn more about starting their own businesses or having more flexibility and control over their movement in and out of the workforce."
There's no arguing that an advanced degree can help mothers improve their employment situation, judging by information assembled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The higher an individual's level of education, the less likely he or she is to be unemployed, according to the bureau. The unemployment rate in 2007 (the latest year for which data is available) for women 25 and older lacking a high school diploma was 8.2 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Women's Bureau. For those with a bachelor's degree or higher, the unemployment rate drops to about 2 percent.
Many working mothers, it seems, now perceive a return to school as not just a dream but a necessity. In an increasingly competitive job market, they recognize they can no longer afford to remain in low-paying jobs, or to be the only competitors in the field without a degree.
"In 1968, my father advised me I didn't need a college education. He said all I needed was to get married and take up homemaking," says Chris Dulaigh-Bates, a 56-year-old medical transcriptionist and mother of two. "I have worked out of my home for the last 17 years, but over the course of the last five years, technology and world trade have eroded away the job security I once enjoyed."
"My future needs a new ending," she says. "I'm going to school to help rewrite the ending to my story."
Dulaigh-Bates is a DeVry University student who was awarded a full-ride scholarship in 2008 through a special "Project Working Mom" scholarship program for working mothers who wanted to return to school through an online program. For many working mothers, the online nature of the scholarship means they will be able to better fit their education into their busy lives, which already revolve around their children, family, and jobs.
The flexibility of online learning may be contributing to the growing interest among mothers to return to pursuing higher education, Johnston points out. The ability to fit online class schedules into already busy lives means many mothers will be able to better balance work, family and educational obligations.
"Online education is the best route for me because sometimes my children with disabilities or special conditions require extensive involvement," says Sandy Decker, a home daycare provider who is pursuing a bachelor's degree in accounting from DeVry University. "This ability to attend school online will prove critical to my success as a student and allow me the flexibility I need as a mother."
Johnston says schools are seeing an increase in the number of women seeking information, scholarships, and degrees in areas deemed recession-proof, like accounting. "Accounting concentrations for undergrad and graduate students are popular as more and more want to be able to have portable skills," she says.
"Working mothers looking to earn a degree should begin to identify their transferable skills, or those skills they bring with them as older adults who have significant life experience," Johnston advises. "These students are usually motivated and just need encouragement as they move forward with their education."