A program run by the Department of Health and Human Services has the potential to help post-secondary institutions across the country in supporting the enrolled student parents population, a new Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) report found.
The report analyzed the Health Department run Head Start program, the largest early childhood education program in the country, and found nearly 65 percent of student parents holding income eligibility requirements to take benefits of the program.
Currently, there are more than 4.8 million student parents across the nation, predominantly residing in the southeast, southwest or Great Lakes regions of the country.
The Head Start program promotes school readiness of children under five from low-income families by providing a variety of services. It includes early learning, health and development screenings, nutritious meals, oral health, mental health support and family well being which covers support to parents in achieving goals like housing stability, continued education, and financial security.
Out of 1700 Head Start programs across the nation, the report identified only 82 partnerships between Head Start and higher education institutions, which are mostly concentrated in states like Washington, Oregon, and California.
“Student parents strive for better lives for themselves and their children, often in the face of poverty and material hardship—and Head Start was designed to provide the kind of whole-family supports that can help parents graduate and succeed over the long term,” said IWPR Executive Vice President and study co-author Barbara Gault.
Studies have found that parents with children, especially single parents, often have lower rates of degree attainment compared to traditional students. Furthermore, only 27 percent of single parents are able to attain a degree within six years of enrollment.
The researchers have strongly recommended partnerships between Head Start programs and higher education institutes to better serve student parents. It also called on state and federal policymakers to take measures in this direction.