Quick, think of a typical college kid.
Did you picture a laughing fraternity boy? An earnest 19-year-old debating politics and philosophy at 1 a.m.? How about a 20-year-old mom, studying on the bus on her way home from work, worried that the neighbor watching her 5-month-old won't be able to keep him when she has to take the midterm next week?
Maybe they're all part of the college experience, but experts say a young, often poor, working parent is becoming the most common college student. A new report released today by the Foundation for Child Development and CLASP, a Washington think tank, finds that although parents' education has a huge effect on their children's future health and educational attainment, there are very few programs focused on improving education for the entire family.
Report author Donald J. Hernandez, a sociology professor at the City University of New York, and his co-authors at the foundation analyzed data from the Census Bureau, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and others connecting children's life outcomes to their mother's education level. The disparities between children of college-educated parents and those with a high school diploma or less will be familiar to most education-watchers, but they're no less disturbing for that:
Children of mothers who never went to college are nearly twice as likely to die as infants, two to three times as likely to be sickly in their childhood (and live without health insurance), and more than 10 times as likely to live in poverty, with all its attendant stresses.
At a briefing on the report here this afternoon, District of Columbia Mayor Vincent C. Gray pointed to the gap in preschool attendance—again, nearly twice as many children of mothers without a high school diploma do not attend preschool as children of mothers with college degrees, 63 percent versus 36 percent. He noted that the lack of early child care and education creates a cycle of struggle: Parents in low-skill jobs earn less money, making it difficult to pay for the child care needed for parents to attend school to complete their education and get better jobs.
That makes it less surprising that the report also found that parents' education strongly predicts their children's reading and mathematics proficiency on the NAEP in 8th grade, and the likelihood that they would graduate high school themselves:
Juan Salgado sees that statistic first-hand as the president and chief executive officer of Instituto del Progreso Latino, which coordinates education, welfare, and support services for families in the Chicago area. At Salgado's Instituto Justice Leadership Academy, a charter school that serves returning dropouts, about half of the students have children of their own.
Many such young people, Salgado said at the briefing, "are full-time workers, full-time parents, full-time students," and the institute works to coordinate child care and early-education and health services for their children while helping the parents complete their own job training and education.
Doing so requires braiding together a messy knot of federal, state, and local funding streams and being ready for constant audits from agencies with disparate goals. It's "a policy operations and an accounting nightmare," he said, that few community groups feel capable of taking on: "It does not get done very often and it does not get done very well."
The report called for policymakers and education officials to look for ways to develop more-holistic "dual generation" anti-poverty programs to educate parents and children at the same time.