About this Report

Promoting family economic security and mobility requires collaboration across key systems that serve families. This report describes opportunities for the early childhood and higher education systems to support each other’s key goals for system advancements to increase economic mobility among America’s families. It provides examples of early education/higher education partnerships at multiple levels that use a variety of funding sources, and that often benefit from leaders and champions who understand the importance of addressing families’ postsecondary and early education needs in an integrated fashion. It also provides a set of principles and recommendations for establishing effective partnerships, informed by the guiding voices of parents. Engaging leaders at all levels, improving data availability, and modifying policies to improve the flow of information, supports, and resources available to families, programs, institutions, and innovative partnerships are key steps to integrating systems to better support families. This research, which was informed by a series of expert interviews, interviews with college students with children, and a literature review, was made possible with funding from the Kresge, Annie E. Casey, and Lumina Foundations.

Introduction and Summary

Families and communities reap powerful social and economic benefits when adults and children from low-income communities have access to education (Gault, Milli, and Reichlin Cruse 2018; Baum, Ma, and Payea 2013). Early childhood and higher education systems each set ambitious standards for quality instruction and tracking progress toward key milestones. By working more closely together, the two systems can better support children and adults in attaining education and enjoying the economic security and well-being that comes with it.

This report discusses how early childhood and higher education can support each other’s key goals for system advancements to increase economic mobility among America’s families. The higher education system, for example, is focused on increasing rates of degree attainment and improving racial and ethnic equity in college access and outcomes, which will require inclusion of adult students with children. Child care can play an important role in helping colleges attract and retain adult students. At the same time, the early education system provides education and care to young children to promote school readiness while working to improve child care quality, teacher training and pay, and family supports for the parents of children they serve. Colleges can provide training and practicum sites for early childhood teachers that also provide supports for students, and can offer career development to adults served by child care programs. Coordination across early education and higher education systems represents a win-win-win-win strategy, which brings benefits to families, improves quality in the early childhood system, promotes college completion, and boosts community economic development.

This report provides a framework for understanding the benefits of and possibilities for integrating higher education and early education systems, and provides examples of partnerships that use a variety of strategies and funding sources to:

  • improve access to child care for college students,
  • improve access to college for child care clients, and
  • collaborate to simultaneously educate early childhood workers and support college students with children.

This research was informed by a literature review and a series of interviews with 19 early childhood and higher education experts and program leaders, as well as conversations with several college students with children (for a full list of interviewees, see Appendix A). The report makes recommendations for collaboration at the institutional, local, state, and national levels, discusses important players to have at the table, and makes suggestions for braiding and blending funding to work across systems.

Recommendations Include:

  • Connect system leaders at the local, state, and national levels.
  • Share student parent stories with early childhood and higher education leaders, and policy makers.
  • Collect data on student parents and early education supports available to serve them.
  • Increase funding for child care for student parents
  • Change state child care assistance policy to make more child care available to college students.
  • Work across systems to make it easier for student parents to find information about child care and other benefits.
  • Invest in evidence-building and convening across Systems.
  • Offer federal and state incentives to bring systems together.
  • Leverage federal/state programs, like TANF and WIOA to connect low-income student parents with affordable, quality child care.