Iowa leaders set ambitious goals to increase the portion of workers with postsecondary education. However, many people who could benefit most face barriers not adequately addressed.
A new report draws attention to one of those groups — young parents. Roughly 36,000 Iowa children have parents ages 18 to 24, and just 17 percent of young parents have completed an associate degree or higher, according to “Opening Doors for Young Parents,” an analysis by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Among children with young parents, 65 percent live in families with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
The 10 percent of young Iowa adults who are parents face unique challenges in advancing educations and careers. They must work enough hours to provide their family’s basic needs, pay for classes or training, obtain child care and find enough hours in the day to fit it all in.
State policymakers have a goal of reaching 70 percent of the adult population holding some postsecondary education by 2025. Iowa College Aid, the state agency dedicated to promoting higher education, published an update this year showing “little progress toward our state’s goal.”
Even as Iowa continues to lead the nation in high school graduation rates, just 61 percent of Iowans have at least some college education.
Reaching the 70 percent goal requires 150,000 more Iowans to obtain education beyond high school. To do that, and to secure promising futures for thousands of children, young parents must be part of the solution.
Iowa’s community colleges already are serving many kinds of students by offering flexible courses in a variety of subjects, with a focus on growing and high-demand fields. Still, more could be done to promote wider access.
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The Iowa Child and Family Policy Center advocates for increasing access to child care assistance by raising eligibility to include families making 185 percent of the federal poverty level, and increase reimbursement rates to organizations serving low-income parents as a way to incentivize more child care services in rural Iowa. Both proposals are likely to yield worthwhile returns on investment.
We know children of parents with limited education face lifelong challenges compared with those from more educated households. We also know Iowa has growing personnel shortages and our employers increasingly will demand an educated workforce. Investing in young parents is a win-win.
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