Omidyar Network: Why We Invested in Ascend

November 1, 2018 | Aspen Postsecondary Success for Parents

This blog is cross-posted from Omidyar Network’s publication, Positive Returns – visit the original post here. Photo credit to Kate Ruth Photo.

want to show people that you shouldn’t be ashamed to get help, you should feel empowered — that it can be a beginning for you, for your dreams to flourish and grow.” 

— Brittany Block, Parent Advisor for the Aspen Postsecondary Success for Parents initiative.

When Brittany Block was in her early 20s, she was building a successful career: earning a cosmetology credential and supervising airline operations. Her life was upended when she met a partner that she wanted to build a life with and became pregnant. When the relationship ended, Brittany found herself without a partner or family support, a newborn, and no degree or work prospects, as her cosmetology credential was not recognized. Fortunately, Brittany found the Jeremiah Program, a holistic national residential program with a two-generation (2Gen) approach — supporting single moms to excel in postsecondary education, as well as their children to succeed in their early years. The organization provided a pathway to safe, affordable housing, early childhood education services for her son, and supported Brittany in earning her bachelor’s degree in 18 months. Jeremiah Program was founded by Gloria Perez, an Aspen Institute Ascend Fellow, where she is part of a cohort of leaders from across the country driving innovative ideas and scaling proven strategies to help families achieve educational success and economic security.

Student parents have incredible motivation, grit, and drive to increase their job prospects through postsecondary success. Yet, they face meaningful challenges to graduate.

The New Face of Postsecondary Students

Brittany is one of nearly 5 million postsecondary students who have a dependent child, or 26 percent of all postsecondary education students — a group also referred to as “student parents.” Those student parents have incredible motivation, grit, and drive to increase their job prospects through postsecondary success. Yet, they face meaningful challenges to graduate. They incur more costs, notably childcare costs, and typically have to work and borrow more debt. Additionally, on average they take longer to graduate because of the many factors in their lives that cause them to take fewer classes at a time or move in and out of formal education. As a result, many student parents do not graduate. At the national level, student parents are 10 times less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree within five years than students who do not have children, even though student parents on average have higher GPAs. Additional research shows that parents of preschool-aged children are roughly twice as likely to drop out of college as those with no children, and that they accumulate significantly fewer credits each semester. When student parents drop out, their children do not benefit from increased educational attainment and increased income.

Why Postsecondary Success Matters

As a student parent, having a postsecondary credential could potentially double that parent’s income and meaningfully increase the education outcome potential for the child. For families with young children who have an annual income of $25,000 or less, a $3,000 increase during the years of early childhood yields a 17 percent increase in adult earnings for those children. This is critical when children in families with low-incomes — or economically insecure households, are nearly twice as likely to not be prepared for kindergarten.

Our Investment in Ascend

Given this context, we are excited about our new partnership with Ascend at the Aspen Institute to accelerate postsecondary success for student parents. Launched at the Aspen Institute in 2010 under the leadership of Executive Director Anne Mosle, Ascend is the national hub for breakthrough ideas and collaborations that move children and the adults in their lives toward educational success, economic security, and health and well-being. As a policy program of the Aspen Institute, Ascend connects the dots, bringing in systems change and leadership aspects of intergenerational cycles of opportunity. Over the past eight years, Ascend has been the catalyst of a vibrant and growing 2Gen field of policy and practice by launching a leadership program supporting innovators, creating a national network of hundreds of organizations working in all 50 states, and fueling policy shifts for stronger outcomes for families.

Parent advisors and staff from Ascend at the Aspen Institute and Omidyar Network at a recent meeting.

Postsecondary success for parents had always been a core 2Gen component of Ascend since inception, and we are excited for Omidyar Network’s funding to Ascend to further build on this important prong of their work. Ascend will hold various roundtables, convening a cohort of Parent Advisors and postsecondary leaders from around the country to share parent perspectives, build on best and promising practices, and identify relevant data and policies to construct a more supportive, effective learning environment for parents.

Core components of a 2Gen Approach. Image: Ascend at the Aspen Institute

We are proud to support Ascend’s extensive network and convening power to inspire a surge of innovation and cross-sector network of leaders — policymakers, practitioners, researchers, and student parents — developing and implementing new strategies to increase the postsecondary success of student parents to set the foundation for elevating the awareness of student parents and spreading best practices for addressing their needs.

Parent Students Now Generating Solutions

With the support of the Jeremiah Program, Brittany graduated with a BA in business administration from St. Mary University of Minnesota and is now applying her digital marketing expertise to grow a multi-store hairstyling operation. She is a brand ambassador for the Jeremiah Program and recently joined the Parent Advisor group at Ascend where we will be looking forward to working with her and a council of 16 student parents to directly advise Ascend in formulating and guiding new solutions. We need system change, and more student parents like Brittany being part of the solution and helping more children and parents benefit from increased economic mobility to build inter-generational opportunities.

Related Posts

In an op-ed written for Early Learning Nation, 2023 Ascend Parent Advisor, Mikah Jorgensen, shares her personal experience and expertise offering 5 ideas and recommendations for postsecondary institutions to make higher education more supportive of parenting students.
Media MentionsOctober 6, 2022
Today, Ascend at the Aspen Institute (Ascend) announced that 11 new Parent Advisors have joined its Postsecondary Success for Parents initiative (PSP) to help shape Ascend’s expanded agenda to improve higher education policy and practice for student parents.
Press ReleasesSeptember 29, 2022
More than half of the nearly 4 million student parents in the U.S. are students of color, with Black, Native, and Latino students among the most likely to be raising children while in college. In fact, one-third of all Black college students in the U.S. are parents. When higher education is not designed with parents …

A Leadership Imperative: Postsecondary Success for Parents Launches Its Next Phase Read More »

Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsSeptember 29, 2022
In an op-ed for Philanthropy News Digest, Ascend founder and executive director Anne Mosle highlights the power and potential in listening to and honoring the expertise of parents and caregivers.
Media MentionsAugust 22, 2022
In an article for Lumina Foundation's summer 2022 Focus magazine, Ascend's David Croom offers insight into the power of student parents' commitment to success for themselves and their families.
Media MentionsAugust 3, 2022
In an op-ed for, Félix V. Matos Rodríguez shares insights and reflections on how higher ed can make a difference for families by supporting student parents.
Media MentionsJuly 29, 2022
RFP for HBCUs and TCUs to apply for funding and technical assistance to support student parent success on their campuses One in five college students – close to 4 million – is pursuing higher education while parenting. More than half are students of color, with Black and Native students more likely to be balancing school …

Ascend’s New Family Futures Fund Focuses on Black and Native Student Parent Success Read More »

Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsJuly 20, 2022
In an Inside Higher Ed article, Ascend's Anne Mosle shares insights into the value of education for family economic mobility, financial security and ultimately well-being.
Media MentionsMay 4, 2022
In episode 101 of the Office Hours with EAB podcast, David Croom shares compelling success stories and recommendations on creative ways for institutions to partner with local businesses and community leaders to offer more support and wraparound services to help student-parents succeed.
Media MentionsApril 26, 2022
So our Ascend team was thrilled to host a virtual book talk with Nicole Lynn Lewis, author of Pregnant Girl: A Story of Teen Motherhood, College, and Creating a Better Future for Young Families.
Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsMarch 10, 2022
David Croom and our Postsecondary Success for Parents partners were featured in NPR discussing the opportunities for colleges and universities to make higher ed more accessible for parenting students. “Parents experience this concept called time poverty,” says David Croom, the assistant director for postsecondary achievement and innovation at Ascend at the Aspen Institute. “They have about …

4 Tips for Parents and Caregivers Who Want to Go to College Read More »

Media MentionsFebruary 21, 2022
Student parents are a key population - one that represents over 20 percent of the postsecondary student population and the state of California. How can the state’s systems prepare for this key population?
Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsJanuary 11, 2022
It took me many years as a professional in the world of higher education before I had a personal epiphany: for me and my family, our academic success as student parents was not only a two-generation (2Gen) strategy that uplifted me and my children, it was a four-generation strategy that set up our family’s success for generations to come.
Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsOctober 26, 2021
Ascend at the Aspen Institute and The Jed Foundation Release a New Mental Health Framework with Recommendations for Supporting the Mental Health of Students Who Are Parents Washington, DC – A new study released today by Ascend at the Aspen Institute (Ascend) and The Jed Foundation (JED) finds that more than two in five (43 percent) …

New Study: Student Parents in College Experience Unique Mental Health Challenges but Lack Access to Support on Campus Read More »

BlogMay 26, 2021
Shaquana Graham is a single mother of three beautiful children. She lives in The Bronx, NY, and is currently a full-time student at Bronx Community College.
Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsMay 24, 2021