Online learning is clearing a path for more women to obtain a college education and become leaders in the workforce. Today, online courses in statistics, economics, physics and the humanities are being offered to women (and men) who, due to the demands of work, family, rising tuition costs and geographical restrictions, would not have been able to attend a traditional, brick-and-mortar college. This shift is empowering women, raising their economic status and fostering a new generation of female leaders.
Online Education Provides Increased Opportunity
According to the American Association of University Women AAUW, more than 60 percent of online students are women, and most of them are older than 25. Women cite flexibility as one of the top advantages to going to college online; doing so affords them the opportunity to continue their education and further their careers while staying in their current jobs and attending to the needs of a family.
The AAUW found the old stereotype of women taking online courses for something fun to do is inaccurate; the majority of women enrolled in online courses at distance education universities do so as degree-seeking students. Many already have jobs, but are looking to expand their marketability, grow their earning potential or ensure some job security.
The New Jersey Department of Labor recently piloted a program aimed at helping poor, single women get career training at home. The Center for Women and Work (CWW) at Rutgers University reported the programs retention rate was a staggering 92 percent, and every single participant cited the ability to learn from home as a major factor in sticking with it. These women realized a 14 percent increase in salary after completing their training and got better jobs overall, according to the CWW report.
There are, of course, still challenges to online learning. Most classes offer little to zero face time with a professor or classmates, and it’s difficult to collaborate if the people in your group are in different time zones. There is also concern that students are missing out on what many consider a vital component to higher education: the real, face-to-face exchange of ideas and ideologies.
And interestingly, women may make up the majority of people studying online, but they are sorely lacking among who’s teaching online. Princeton, for example, reported that 33 percent of its permanent faculty is women, yet none of them teaches online classes. The reasons for this disparity is unclear.
Another challenge for women trying to juggle work, family and online education is finding balance. In fact, working mothers are increasingly adding what is being called a third shift to their day: time to get on the computer and attend class online. While this challenge tests us all from time to time, the benefits seem to outweigh the detraction’s.
An Exciting Future
There’s no doubt that online learning has paved the way for busy women who otherwise would not be able to attend a traditional college get their degree and land better jobs. Studies show that educating women decreases poverty and violence and increases the health outcomes for them and their families. These same women are poised to be the business leaders of tomorrow.