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Washington, DC – A new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) makes a compelling case that getting parents who have not earned a degree back to college is a key element for economic recovery from the pandemic. The new research from the Student Parent Success Initiative (SPSI) fills a gap in the literature by highlighting the importance of intentionally engaging, retaining, and supporting adult parents with some college credit—but no degree—for family wellbeing, racial equity, and broader social and economic progress.

“Providing greater support for parents to complete their college education is an important step toward closing racial equity gaps,” said C. Nicole Mason, President and CEO of IWPR. “As the country recovers from a global pandemic and economic recession that have disproportionately affected Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities, enabling parents who don’t already hold college degrees to earn one is essential to an equitable recovery.”

Using the American Community Survey, the authors found that as of 2019, roughly 43 percent of all adults—or 73.7 million people—had completed associate, bachelor, and graduate degrees. An additional 28.7 million adults would need to earn an associate degree or higher to reach 60 percent attainment among U.S. adults. Single parents and Black, Latinx, and Indigenous parents are the least likely adults to hold a college degree.

“Black, Latinx, and Indigenous parents have a strong desire to earn a college education, yet face structural obstacles that can derail their educational goals,” said Vinice Davis, venture partner of Imaginable Futures. “It doesn’t have to be this way; these are policy choices.”

IWPR’s analysis finds even if the few adults who report recent enrollment in a college program and all adults without children who hold at least one year of college credit—but no degree—go on to graduate, the United States still would not achieve 60 percent attainment among adults overall.

Report co-author Lindsey Reichlin Cruse, Managing Director of IWPR’s Student Parent Success Initiative said, “Unless we do something to change it, it will take until 2042 to reach 60 percent degree attainment among all adults aged 25 to 64. And single mothers won’t reach that point until 2048. The country’s economic recovery and our progress towards increased economic, gender, and racial equity hinge on creating supportive and accessible pathways to degrees and high-quality, living wage jobs.”

The report, co-authored by IWPR’s Catherine Hensly, MA, and Chaunté White, PhD, recommends that federal and state policymakers and college and university leaders take swift and meaningful action to re-engage and support success in college for adult learners who are parents.

Federal recommendations include re-establishing a national attainment goal that emphasizes student parents as a priority population with specific racial equity targets; investing in the collection and reporting of data on the number, characteristics, and outcomes of students who are parents; and expanding critical student parent supports, such as accessible, affordable child care.

For state and institutional leaders, the authors recommend setting attainment goals for students who are parents that acknowledge the intersection of parenting and racial and ethnic equity in attainment and implementing campus-level strategies that intentionally reengage parents with some credits and provide supportive, family-friendly pathways to degree attainment.