Linking Early Childhood and Higher Education Systems Can Improve Economic Mobility

Press Release

May 30, 2019

Contact: Jennifer Clark | 202-785-5100 |


New report provides recommendations for states and institutions to align early and higher education systems for better student, child, and community outcomes

Washington, DC—Early childhood and higher education can support each other’s key goals to increase economic mobility among America’s families, according to a new report released today by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR).

Early childhood and higher education systems are both driving toward ambitious system improvement goals and could benefit from better integration.  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, many of whom are students of color, and who may need access to child care to complete their studies. 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.

Student parents are a key demographic for both early childhood and higher education institutions, with one in five college students—or 3.8 million undergraduates—raising children while going to school. Two in five of these students are single mothers, whose ability to complete school often hinges on finding quality, affordable child care that supports their school and work schedules, a significant obstacle for most student parents. Just eight percent of single mothers graduate within six years of enrolling.

“Better coordination across early education and higher education systems is a win-win-win-win strategy, bringing benefits to families, improving quality in the early childhood system, promoting college completion, and strengthening community economic development. said IWPR Executive Vice President Barbara Gault, Ph.D.

Higher education and early education systems can connect at the programmatic, institutional, local, state, and federal levels through a variety of strategies outlined in the report:

  • Colleges can help students find and secure affordable child care through referrals, apply for funding from the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program to provide subsidized care to students, and partner with Head Start programs and state child care subsidy systems to serve eligible students through vouchers, contracts, co-location, and helping to navigate students’ program eligibility.
  • Early care and education providers can refer and connect parents to education and training programs to expand their economic opportunities and to partner with colleges and universities to meet local labor market demands for well-trained early childhood teachers.

This report provides a framework and examples of how institutions, policymakers, and local agencies can implement promising strategies that benefit their communities.  Promising practices profiled in the report include programs at Miami Dade College (Florida), the University of Michigan, Portland State University (Oregon), the Community Colleges of Spokane (Washington), City University of New York, and Monroe Community College (New York); Head Start programs, including Saint Clair County Head Start (Alabama), Community Action Project of Tulsa County (Oklahoma), and Total Action for Progress (Virginia); and statewide efforts in Minnesota, Georgia, New York, Arkansas, Washington, and Virginia.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that conducts and communicates research to inspire public dialogue, shape policy, and improve the lives and opportunities of women of diverse backgrounds, circumstances, and experiences. IWPR also works in collaboration with the Program on Gender Analysis in Economics at American University.