do employers view online degrees as lesser than ones earned at a university on site? i just keep wondering if, after i go thru all the effort of getting the degree, i will have a harder time getting hired than someone who went to classes in person...? any thoughts on this?
I personally would not waste my time with online programs. Not only are they considered faux-degrees, they are expensive. There are some situations where these kind of degrees can suit you just fine... such as when you work for a large corporation and they have arbitrary requirements for promotions. It's then that it's just a "piece of paper." A friend of mine is getting his BA from Pheonix because the bank he works for will consider him for a promotions once he has his degree. However, if it's LEARNING you want, and a real degree that actually means something, then skip these profit-making degree-granting businesses.
Definitely look into junior/community colleges. I cannot say enough good things about them. Out here in CA at least, there is a BOGG fee waiver that waives tuition fees if you sign a form declaring income below a certain level. Even if you have to pay tuition, its very reasonable. Community college is the way to start out... you'll be among a lot of fellow "returners," with similar challenges you face. Also, many classes offered will be night or weekend classes for working adults.
What you need to do is go see an academic counselor at your local community college. Explain to them your goals, plans, and they'll tell you what you need to do to get there.
You'll be surprised just how many parents with children are doing the exact same thing you're thinking of doing. My wife is in a nursing program, and there are a ton of people with kids, and with their spouse working while they are in school. My wife and I did the same thing, except without kids. But we have one on the way, and I will likely continue my education for a doctorate.
When people think of college they often think of 18-22 year olds living in dorms, and without a care in the world. Well, they certainly do exist, but there is a whole other world of people pursuing higher education apart from that rather narrow stereotype.
So look into COMMUNITY COLLEGES!