Investing in Parents

A couple of weeks ago, in a post about a meeting between a group of adult learners and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, I mentioned being struck by how often the discussion turned to the non-academic barriers that can make adult education a challenge for many people.

Yesterday the National Journal published a story about the Jeremiah Program in Minneapolis, which provides low-income single mothers enrolled in college with subsidized housing in residential communities with on-site child care, in the belief that a lack of secure housing and child care are the biggest barriers preventing these young women from finishing college. (A pilot program in Austin, Texas is also underway, and there are plans to open a new campus in Fargo, North Dakota, next year)

To qualify for the program, these women have to be enrolled in college, but it’s not difficult to envision how this model could be adapted for adult learners seeking to improve their literacy and/or earn a high-school credential.

Jeremiah’s return on investment numbers also demonstrate, once again, the wisdom of investing in parents (especially mothers) in order to improve school readiness and reduce child poverty:

An independent study from Wilder Research of St. Paul found that every dollar invested in Jeremiah Program families can return up to $7 to society at large, both by reducing the family’s dependence on public assistance and by increasing the economic prospects of both mother and child. Sixty percent of the program’s 2011 graduates were unemployed when they entered the program, and the rest were earning an average of $9.46 per hour. Upon graduation, the women started earning an average wage of $19.35 per hour. Graduates leave with better parenting skills, and their children get the benefit of high-quality early-childhood care. 

Gloria Perez, Jeremiah’s president and CEO, told the National Journal that “everybody seems to acknowledge, across all political lines, that the mother tends to be the primary educator of the child and role model for the child,” but unlike the calls to invest in pre-K education, you don’t hear as much about scaling up programs that invest in parents. And yet the return on investment numbers here are just as powerful as those used to support the case for investing in pre-K.