Online Grad School: Interviewing a Working Mom

Online Grad School: Interviewing a Working Mom
Chris Burton
Vice President of Business Development, Greenwood Hall

Online courses continue to grow in popularity, especially for working professionals and parents…also known as “nontraditional students.” Babson Survey Research Group reports that more than 28% of all college students now take at least one course online, up from 9% in 2002. In other words, a working mom (like my bride of nearly 15 years, pictured above) can attend classes on her own schedule and still be available for her job, family and perhaps a trip to the gym or night out with friends. Perhaps this is why Aslanian Research found that more than 70% of online students are female. Even more surprising was that 2015 marked the first year since the Census Bureau began collecting data on higher education attainment that women (30.3%) are more likely to have a bachelor’s degree than men (29.9%).

So, what is driving online enrollment today? I conducted a short research project and would like to share the results with you today. However, I’ll be the first to admit I did not meet minimum sample size requirements. Rather, I decided to simply ask my wife 3 questions about why she decided to go back to school to get her graduate degree. Although anecdotal at best, perhaps her answers provide a glimpse into the mind of today’s online student.

Chris: Why did you want to go back to school?
Laura: That’s easy…it boiled down to 2 things. First, I’ve always wanted to work. And while our kids are young, I saw an opportunity to get an advanced degree while the kids were in school, which would set me up to reenter the workplace in a position beyond an administrative assistant. I’ve always wanted more and felt school was the door I had to walk through in order to have access to those options. Second, taking classes online allowed me the flexibility to meet my family’s needs, while at the same time investing time in something that will pay off in the future. It feels like I don’t have to sacrifice my family and friends just to go back to school. If I had to go to night school or take daytime classes, it just wouldn’t work for me.

Burton Family Chris: How do your online courses compare to your on ground courses?
Laura: As it is with everything, there are pros and cons. As far as the cons go, I do struggle with feeling slightly “removed” from the actual classroom. There’s just something about being in the physical classroom that makes me feel part of the class. Maybe it’s sitting in the swivel chairs or hearing other classmates’ questions, but I do miss the classroom experience. As for the pros, I love it that I can go to a school with international recognition, even though I’m out of state. Their system even allows me to download lectures (I listen to them in the car sometimes). As far as difficulty, I’d say they are equal, but different. For example, participation in online classroom is challenging at times because of the threaded discussions. But as far as the number and difficulty of assignments, it’s the same. Plus, you are required to learn and use the technology, which is good for someone like me who doesn’t enjoy learning new tech tricks. 

Chris: How do you balance everything?
Laura: This is, by far, the hardest part of being an online student. Managing my schedule challenges my personal discipline because I have so much going on! As a result, I just have to prioritize what I do and make sure I set aside time for when I’m going to do my classwork. I also put dates in my calendar for when things are due. It gets overwhelming at times…and I do stay up late several nights a week. And to be completely honest, I’ve had to learn that it’s okay to let the laundry pile up and use paper plates “just one more time.” At least I have a family who understands that “mommy is in school too” and supports my efforts.

What can we learn from this non-scientific, 15-minute research project? First, motivation remains the key to turning prospects into students…and students into graduates. When push comes to shove, it’s the “why” that’ll determine whether someone is going to take the leap of faith and go back to school, or take the bigger leap of faith and stay in school until they graduate. Second, proactive student support will continue to play a significant role in helping students succeed. From high touch phone calls during critical cycles in the semester to simple email reminders about payment deadlines and course registration instructions, these points of contact help very busy people stay on track. They also show you care. And finally, be sure your students have a support system in place to help them through school. Not only will it help your students, but it also helps the people in the support system realize the difference achieving educational goals can make in an individual’s life.

To all the Moms out there…keep up the good work! You’ll get to the finish line before you know it!