National data have consistently shown a relationship between maternal education level and how well children are prepared for success as they enter kindergarten (see figure above). As the country continues to struggle with what seems like an intractable achievement gap, it is time to put more attention on expanding the two ends of the education continuum: access to quality early childhood education and renewed postsecondary opportunities for parents of young children.
Robust data demonstrate the importance of maternal education to early childhood development. Studies have found that when mothers increase their education level it can have a powerful influence on their children. At the same time, the participation of their young children in early childhood programs can renew a parent’s interest in their own education. The process can become mutually reinforcing – and education can become a family affair.
Nearly one in four students in two- and four-year institutes of higher education are parents. Yet we know that young parents face serious challenges as they attempt to balance education, work, and family. Young parents must navigate financial assistance and child care, as well as fitting the culture of college into the realities of family life.
Policies and programs at all levels can help to bring these goals of parental education and early childhood development together. Child care assistance should be increased and made more accessible so young parents are not shut out of higher education, opportunities for better wages, and new career pathways. Quality campus child care and other early education programs, particularly for low-income students, should be expanded. Leaders in early education and postsecondary education at the federal, state, and community levels can work together to find creative solutions to support education throughout a parent’s life as well as their child’s. Bringing both ends of education together across the generations can help us become a nation of learners.