Education may be within reach for working moms — and other moms and dads — who might not otherwise think they have the chance to get a degree.

Online education has sprouted at many schools, creating a worldwide network of colleges and universities offering a plethora of degrees from the comfort of the students' homes.

Project Working Mom is asking for working or stay-at-home moms, and dads, in the Salt Lake City area and throughout the United States, to apply for scholarships available only to their demographic, allowing them to go back to school and better their lives.

"When you start to read the stories of why these people are going back to school, you see that there are significant barriers of time, money and confidence," said Terrence Thomas, spokesman for eLearners.com. He said that data on the pay scales of working moms proves they are "trapped in a cycle of underemployment.

"They see education as a way out of their current situation," Thomas said, adding that work schedules often put education out of reach for working moms and dads, who are forced to juggle their spare time to care for their children.

"Ours is a service-based economy and the working hours are not congruent with getting an education," he said. "Online education is a way to get out of this cycle."

According to U.S. Census data, only 22 percent of single, working moms earn more than $30,000 per year and more than 80 percent of single moms lack the education they need to advance in a career. On top of that, nearly 35 percent of all single-parent, female-headed households live in poverty.

Nearly $2 million is at stake, which could potentially improve the lives of many families who currently struggle, said Eric Keith, who helps to market Project Working Mom: Putting Education to Work.

ELearners.com launched the project to address a growing crisis in the country, which they explain as a lack of adequate financial aid for nontraditional students. The Web site serves as a resource center for anyone seeking an online degree, Thomas said.

Of the 20,000 applicants thus far, more than 130 Utahns are vying for one of the 40-plus full-ride scholarships to the three sponsoring online universities. Recipients will be chosen based upon a series of essays that explain why an online education is their best option and how motivated they are to complete a degree online.

For more information on how to apply or to join a discussion with other working moms, visit projectworkingmom.com. Winning recipients of the scholarships will be announced the week of Mother's Day, in May.

"If we can just make 5 percent of the population aware of how online education can be a way to improve your life, we've done our job," Thomas said.


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