Students entering Mesa College
Students entering Mesa College. Courtesy San Diego Community College District

Being a parent and working full-time leaves little to no free time to dream about the future. Many of us had families first and put our career aspirations second. Juggling school full-time in addition to work and family responsibilities can make pursuing higher education extremely difficult.

Financial barriers as well as a lack of flexibility can stand in the way for too many California adults. Providing financial aid for flexible online degree programs for parents and older adults can make achieving a college degree, on their own time, a reality.

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The California Adult Learners Opportunity Grant Program, proposed through Assembly Bill 2572, would put higher education within reach for a large population of parents looking to create a better future for themselves and their families.

I am one of the many parents who could not compromise a stable income for my family while earning a degree. And as a full-time parent, I couldn’t be a full-time student in a traditional school structure as well.

I needed an affordable, flexible option that could allow me to balance class loads with my duties as a parent of a child with disabilities, making sure he had what he needed to succeed himself. I had the dream to go back to school, but it never seemed to be the right time until I was referred to a nonprofit online university with flexible on-demand class schedules.

Earning my degree online was the best option to support my family, work part-time, and have the opportunity to attend classes at my own pace. But the price of tuition, while lower than traditional, brick-and-mortar colleges, can be a significant barrier for many.

For years, I put off returning to college because putting my family in debt while completing my degree was just not an option or risk I could afford to take, and I know I’m not the only California parent facing similar obstacles.

Currently, California ranks last in the nation in adult education with an estimated 57% of adults in need of higher education. 63% of single mothers and 49% of single fathers have completed some college but never received the chance to finish their degrees.

Parents without easy access to childcare and working part-time or even full-time jobs just don’t see many options for themselves in higher education. And currently, California only provides financial aid to younger students pursuing a degree at brick-and-mortar campuses.

Fortunately, the solution for California student parents who lack the financial resources to pursue online degree programs exists with AB 2572. This bill would offer state financial aid to students 25 years old or older to pursue online degrees at California community colleges, public institutions, and, nonprofit, fully accredited private universities to earn their college degree. This new grant program would help our state as we face major workforce shortages, particularly in healthcare and teaching.

Research shows that affordability and flexibility are key to ensuring student parents and other adult learners return to higher education and complete their degrees. Providing financial aid to students pursuing online degree programs — students like me — can help California student parents find their next opportunity without upending their family responsibilities.

The ability to create my own class schedule is critical for me as I have a child who attends therapy as well as working a part-time job. Creating my own course schedule helps me to be a better student, parent, and person.

Online higher education has helped me advance my career, balance work and school life, all while raising my son. I’ve earned my bachelor’s degree and now I’m pursuing a master’s degree. This investment in my education improves the future I can provide for my family.

AB 2572 will help many parents like myself complete their degrees and bring their career goals within reach while helping bridge the gaps in California’s workforce. I urge the California Legislature to support this bill and provide a pathway to college degrees and career development for busy parents like myself.

Vinetia Jones is San Diego resident and adult learner