Today I am climbing up on my soapbox, so consider yourself warned! I don’t know how much any of you have followed what is going on with online colleges in the news, but as fellow child abuse survivors, you need to know…
I have been working as an online college instructor for one of the well-known online universities since 2008. Online colleges are designed to meet the needs of the non-traditional student. Until I started getting to know my students, I did not realize just how many child abuse survivors are able to earn a college degree because of the existence of online universities like the one where I work. The ability to attend college online has been a real gift to numerous child abuse survivors who would not otherwise be able to go to college.
Of course, people from all walks of life are online students, but the majority is not straight out of high school like you see on most of the traditional college campuses. Numerous students are single parents who are working fulltime in dead-end jobs. Earning a college degree is the ticket out of their current life circumstances. If they had to find childcare and attend a ground campus, they would never be able to earn a college degree. However, by being able to log onto the computer after the children are in bed, they are able to make this huge commitment.
I have been surprised by how many fellow child abuse survivors are enrolled in online colleges. I have heard all sorts of stories because of the personal nature of the course that I facilitate. Once one student shares her story, others share theirs as well. I have had several students who grew up in the foster care system, abused wives who are secretly earning a college degree when the abusive partner is not home, and recovering addicts. More students with a history of child abuse have shared their story than I can count. Many of these students have told me that a “regular” college education would not have been possible for them. They are so grateful for having this option.
Many of the well-known online universities are for-profit, which has caused some people to question the motives of these colleges and the value of their degrees. My online university, as well as others, has made changes to the format of the classes to ensure that only students who are ready to take on the commitment do so and to set them up for success. My online university also offers free confidential counseling over the phone for all students. The counselors are equipped to handle everything from the basic stresses of time management to issues as serious as rape or suicide threats.
I applied for a job as an online college instructor because of the flexible hours. I never dreamed that I would be helping so many child abuse survivors by doing this. Even though my students will never know the details of my own history, I am able to believe in them and help them to have the confidence that they can rise above their childhood traumas. It is a real honor to work with these online students. I hope that these students will continue to have access to Federal financial aid (this has been the topic in the news) because without it, many won’t have access to the tools needed to create a better life for themselves. Watching insecure online students gain confidence in their ability to change the direction of their lives is the most rewarding part of my job.
Photo credit: Hekatekris