Celebrate Mother's Day By Following Your Academic Dreams


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Thursday, May 11, 2023
Mom reading to child
Jackie Elliott with her son, being interviewed at Rio Salado

Jackie Elliott with her son, being interviewed at Rio Salado

President John F. Kennedy once said "we must use time as a tool, not as a couch." With all the complications and challenges life puts before us, it can be easy to defer on our dreams. “I’ll get to that someday.” We sit and wait for the right moment, the right opportunity, at the risk of them never coming. So it goes with education: there is rarely ever the “right time” to go back to school, especially for working parents who feel like they don’t have a lot of extra sand to spare in their hourglass.

Going back to school to continue your education — whether it’s to complete a high school equivalency diploma, pursue a degree, or get a certificate of completion in a career-ready skill — can make a huge difference in your family’s quality of life. Here’s a few reasons why:

  • Workers with degrees earn more.
  • You can learn new skills that could help you pivot to a new career or advance further in your current field.
  • Surveys have found that college graduates report a higher level of happiness and satisfaction with their lives.
  • Going back to school and finishing what you started sets a positive example for your children.
  • Research has found that children of college graduates are more likely to graduate from colleges themselves.

Around one in five college students are parents; of that number, more than half leave college without graduating. Juggling parental, career, and educational obligations can be a challenge, sometimes we have to put our own ambitions aside to focus on supporting and caring for our families. But when you’re ready to go back to school, there are a few things you can do to make it easier on yourself.

Learn From Home

For Rio Salado College’s 2023 Commencement Speaker Jackie Elliott, in-person classes were not a viable option.“As a working parent, attending classes on a college campus was out of the question. Rio was the difference between me being able to go to school or not,” said Elliott. Elliott is far from alone in this: for most parents, not being able to stay close to home to care for their children is a dealbreaker when it comes to going back to school. That’s where the convenience of online learning comes in: you can take classes from your living room and save time that would have been spent commuting to and from campus.

Set Your Own Schedule

Many online classes (like the ones on offer at Rio Salado College) are asynchronous. That means they have no set start time during the day: your class starts when YOU log-in. Because of the demands on your time as a parent, being able to set a schedule that works around your commitments is essential.

“I chose RIo Salado because of the flexibility in available dates for classes,” Rio Salado business graduate Martha Salter said. “I appreciated being able to do my classes around my schedule and still be home to take care of my daughter.”

Online courses often also offer accelerated learning options. If you need to level up your skills at a quicker pace, you can opt for an 8-week course instead of the usual 14-16 week length. You also don’t have to commit to a full-time schedule as a student; you can take a couple of courses to get your sea legs, and take on more as you go if it works for your schedule.

Designate A Learning Space

Living with kids can shrink your free space, so setting up a dedicated area in your home for your education could be tricky. The benefits are significant, however, both in organizational terms (you don’t have to scramble to find your books or notes when they’re in one place) and psychological. Much like setting up a home office for remote working, having a learning space can help shift you into a learning mindset. Having a place to sit and take classes every day can help you concentrate and stay focused on your goals. It also helps set up a visual indicator to your family that you’re in “school time” when you go to your space.

A few things to keep in mind when putting together your learning space:

  • Pick a place with minimal foot traffic. Don’t choose a room that your kids/partner/pets have to frequently pass through to get to somewhere else.
  • The quieter the space, the better. If it’s away from noisy common areas, all the better.
  • Go for comfortable chairs and ergonomic office equipment whenever possible. You’ll be sitting and learning for a while, so you want to use a setup that supports your body and has the least impact on it.
  • Do you love spending time on social media? Consider installing a social media blocker on your computer that you can switch on while you’re studying or taking classes so you won’t be distracted.
  • Add a houseplant to your office setup. Studies have found that adding some living greenery in your home can reduce your stress levels and improve concentration.

Set Learning Hours

Once you have your schedule worked out and a space put aside for learning, communicate with your family and let them know when you’ll be in class. If you have a partner or roommate who can help run interference on your kids while you’re learning, get their support early on. Try to set your learning time so it’s not concurrent with any of your regular routines. You don’t want to disrupt your learning flow by having to step away to dole out a midday snack or do the laundry.

Take A Break

Burnout is a very real risk for parents going back to school. It’s absolutely vital that you take breaks to recharge your mental batteries and alleviate stress. Take a short break during every learning session when you can to clear your mind. When you do take a break, try to take a break from EVERYTHING. Don’t step away from learning to go do a work task or tend to your kids. Give yourself that 5-10 minutes of time to unplug and relax; give yourself permission to be “selfish” for a brief moment. If you’re just jumping from one obligation to another, you’re not taking a break — you’re simply exchanging one stressor for another.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help

Rio Salado College has a staff of academic advisors, Success Coaches, and counselors who have experience working with adult learners. If you have questions about what classes to take, what financial resources are available, and/or what support services you can use, they’re here to help you. Also: don’t be afraid to get tutoring if you feel stymied by your current class.

A Community Of Mothers

At Rio, we’re proud to have so many parents in our community. If you want to see for yourself what going back to school has done for working mothers, check out these profiles on some of our alumni:

Article by Austin Brietta

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