Sending Parents Back to Class — and Down a Brighter Career Path

Posted May 14, 2016
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog sendingparentsbacktoclass 2016

Casey and the Ford and Winthrop Rock­e­feller foun­da­tions have been sup­port­ing the eval­u­a­tion of an inno­v­a­tive Arkansas ini­tia­tive that aims to help low-income par­ents, many of them sin­gle moth­ers, enter the work­force and build careers. The first set of find­ings is in, and it shows the pro­gram not only ben­e­fits par­ents but the state as a whole, enabling more fam­i­lies to move out of pover­ty and up the income ladder.

Since 2006, Arkansas has used funds from the fed­er­al Tem­po­rary Assis­tance for Needy Fam­i­lies (TANF) pro­gram to send eli­gi­ble par­ents to 25 com­mu­ni­ty and tech­ni­cal col­leges across the state for edu­ca­tion and train­ing that pre­pares them for well-pay­ing jobs in high-demand indus­tries such as health care and edu­ca­tion. The Arkansas Career Path­ways Ini­tia­tive helps these par­ents over­come obsta­cles that often stand in the way of their com­plet­ing col­lege or cre­den­tials, cov­er­ing tuition and fees, offer­ing gas vouch­ers and child care assis­tance and pro­vid­ing tutor­ing and men­tor­ing — at an aver­age annu­al cost of $1,500 per student.

About 90% of the more than 30,000 par­ents who have enrolled in the pro­gram over the past decade are moth­ers, and near­ly 60% are sin­gle par­ents. More than 80% are enrolled in the Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion Assis­tance Pro­gram or Med­ic­aid. Less than half were employed when they first enrolled, and most earned min­i­mum wage. Over 90% had a high school diplo­ma or GED.

Find­ings from the first phase of the joint­ly fund­ed study show that more than half of the par­tic­i­pat­ing par­ents have grad­u­at­ed from col­lege with an asso­ciate degree or tech­ni­cal cer­tifi­cate — more than twice the rate of their peers across the state. And more than 60% of those who enrolled in a two-year col­lege in 2008 com­plet­ed a degree or cer­tifi­cate by 2014, far exceed­ing the nation­al rate of about 40%.

The study indi­cates that par­ents who go through the pro­gram also end up earn­ing more. Stu­dents enrolled in 2011, for exam­ple, earned about $3,100 more annu­al­ly in the first year after com­plet­ing their degree or cre­den­tial than their TANF coun­ter­parts in the same geo­graph­ic area and types of jobs.

These find­ings make a strong case for the pow­er of indus­try-spe­cif­ic strate­gies — which align job train­ing with the needs of local economies — even in con­nect­ing indi­vid­u­als who have lim­it­ed work expe­ri­ence with employ­ment. They also high­light how states can effec­tive­ly use TANF funds to equip par­ents fac­ing sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges to get­ting a job with the tools and skills they need to sup­port their chil­dren and become self-sufficient.

The next phase of the eval­u­a­tion, now under­way, will explore the dif­fer­ence these improve­ments in par­ent edu­ca­tion and job oppor­tu­ni­ties make in children’s lives, from how they do in school to their over­all well-being. We look for­ward to shar­ing what we learn in the next year.

Read the Col­lege Count$ study

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