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For working moms, a way to connect with college

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Many of the 50,000 essays that poured in for the scholarship contest included "heartbreaking" tales of poverty, abuse, and divorce, says eLearners.com content director Helen MacDermott. "But they're not all hardscrabble and misery. A lot of these women are so motivated.... At this point, the biggest barrier is financial, and that's a terrible reason for someone not to be able to move on to the next stage of their life or provide things that they want for their kids."

Just 15 percent of single mothers with children below age 18 have a bachelor's degree or more, according to a 2006 Census Bureau report. But whether a working mother is married or single, going back to school can be daunting. Besides finances, time and confidence are often lacking. Project Working Mom aims to push aside these obstacles by providing scholarships, information about schools and financial aid, and an online forum for women who are balancing work, school, and motherhood.

In traditional classrooms, older students often aren't comfortable talking about pressures at home or work, but an online forum "creates a safe space for them to voice the issues they're facing," says Becky Wai-Ling Packard, a professor at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., who has studied adults in higher education.

Building up confidence is particularly important for those who've had a lapse in education, Professor Packard adds. If a student takes on too big a load, she "might not do well and believe it's a lack of ability." Many drop out at the first sign of trouble, but they're more likely to persist after succeeding in one or two courses, she says.

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