New Aspen Institute Partnership to Focus on Solutions to Advance Success for Students who are Parents

November 1, 2018

Aspen Postsecondary Success for Parents Initiative releases first set of recommendations to better engage students who are parents

Contact: Lindsay Broyhill
Ascend at the Aspen Institute
Tel: 202.721.5596

Washington, DC – The Aspen Institute announced the Aspen Postsecondary Success for Parents Initiative, a partnership between policy program Ascend at the Aspen Institute and Omidyar Network to raise awareness of and share recommendations to better support students who are parents. The initiative, guided by Ascend’s comprehensive two-generation (2Gen) approach that supports children and their parents simultaneously to move the whole family toward educational success and economic security and informed by a group of 16 parent advisors, today released its first set of briefs and recommendations on how postsecondary institutions and policymakers may better engage issues relevant to students who are parents and remove barriers to this key population attaining high-quality postsecondary credentials. These briefs are first of a suite of publications to be released through February 2019 that elevate a set of parent-informed recommendations for postsecondary parent success.

Parents are a key segment of today’s postsecondary students. According to research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, approximately one in four college students – 5 million individuals – are caring for a child. Increasing postsecondary pathways for parents can have an outsize impact on economic security for their family and for generations to come: Research has shown that parents who complete a college degree can double their incomes, and just a $3,000 increase in income for parents with young children can translate to a 17 percent increase in their children’s future earnings. Yet students caring for young children are forced to overcome barriers such as a lack of affordable, quality child care options; high tuition costs; and inflexible schedules at both school and work – in addition to a lack of time for basic activities: Recent research on “time poverty” that found that students raising preschool-age children had about 10 hours per day to dedicate to academics, sleeping, eating, and leisure activities, compared to the 21 hours available for childless students.

Tackling these challenges also require contextual lenses that take into account persistent gender inequalities and racial disparities in our society: 71% of all students who are parents are women, and although black students represent approximately 15% of the total undergraduate student population, just over 37% of all students who are single mothers are black.

“I am thrilled that Ascend and Omidyar Network are tackling this critical issue,” said Aspen Institute president and CEO Dan Porterfield. “The structures of higher education and American society place many barriers in front of students who are raising young children, and at many institutions they are largely an invisible population. I look forward to the recommendations that this initiative produces so we can do even more to lift up student parents and celebrate their talent, drive, and success.”

A central component of the Postsecondary Success for Parents Initiative is a group of 16 parent advisors who provide input and direction for the recommendations. The briefs released today offer recommendations based on a working group of parents, Ascend Network Partners, researchers, advocates, policymakers, and practitioners looking to better support students who are parents, crafted into policy recommendations for federal and state postsecondary systems, and practice recommendations for postsecondary systems.

Recommendations include:

  • Provide support for whole-family services on campus, including benefits eligibility screening and access to affordable high-quality child care, on and off-campus.
  • Remove barriers to allow for blending and braiding of federal and/or state funds to incentivize cross-sector partnerships and 2Gen approaches in postsecondary education and workforce development
  • Identify and engage students who are parents on campus and in the community to better understand family needs and improve educational and economic success for parents and their children
  • Build cross-sector collaborative support through strategic partnerships to increase college completion and workforce readiness by addressing whole family needs.

“I was a teen mom and had been working since I was 14 years old. I went back to school almost immediately after having my child. I was working and going to school at the same time, spending money I didn’t have on books. I was in the door, but didn’t have any of the tools necessary to succeed,” said Ashley Hill, a parent advisor, member owner of the Birthmark Doula Collective, and contributor to Honor Your Mamas. “There is no reason there should be this many obstacles to parents being able to succeed in postsecondary education. I want to help the decision-makers understand what we are facing and the barriers they have the power to remove.”

For students who are parents, access and completion of a college degree or vocational certification often requires a strong support system to help overcome significant challenges, which are often the result of barriers that systems, policies, and practitioners have a role in dismantling. To address these barriers, the Postsecondary Success for Parents Initiative will achieve the following objectives in early 2019 and beyond:

  • Promote a deeper understanding across practice, policy, and research of the opportunities, barriers, and challenges for students who are parents;
  • Create a framework for parent-powered solutions and engagement; and
  • Develop a model for philanthropy to leverage parent voice that can be applied to a range of sectors, including but not limited to postsecondary education.

“We are excited about our partnership with Ascend at the Aspen Institute and look forward to working closely with them and the parent advisors to co-create new solutions and elevate existing practices for student parents,” said Isabelle Hau, investment partner, US Education at Omidyar Network. “It is critical to increase postsecondary success for student parents to lift family economic mobility and impact education outcomes for their children. We hope the Postsecondary Success for Parents Initiative’s recommendations on engaging student parents is a step in a larger movement of support for this motivated and creative, yet often invisible student population.”Ascend at the Aspen Institute is the national hub for breakthrough ideas and collaborations that move children and their parents toward educational success, financial security and health and well-being. Ascend has taken a 2Gen approach to working on postsecondary success for parents since its founding in 2010, and now has the opportunity to delve more deeply into this critical issue area.

“Listening to parents, elevating their voices, and lifting up their dreams for their children and family is core to Ascend’s philosophy, and we are thrilled to welcome a group of parent advisors to the initiative – all leaders in their own right – to share their expert insights into the lives of students who are parents that will inform a suite of recommendations for policymakers, philanthropists, and higher education leaders in the U.S.,” said Anne Mosle, vice president at the Aspen Institute and executive director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute. “Ascend is honored to be supported by Omidyar Network to focus on accelerating the postsecondary success of parents. We know that investing in the economic and educational success of parents can have a two-generation impact.”

The Postsecondary Success for Parents Initiative builds on the best of the Aspen Institute’s tradition of supporting leaders, building networks, and sharing and sparking innovation. This initiative is made possible through the support of Omidyar Network.


Ascend at the Aspen Institute is the national hub for breakthrough ideas and collaborations that move children and their parents toward educational success, economic security, and health and well-being. We embrace a commitment to racial equity and a gender lens. For more information, visit

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

Omidyar Network is a philanthropic investment firm that invests in and helps scale innovative organizations to catalyze economic and social change. Established in 2004 by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam, the organization has committed more than $1.3 billion to for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations across multiple initiatives, including: Digital Identity, Education, Emerging Tech, Financial Inclusion, Governance & Citizen Engagement, and Property Rights. To learn more, visit, and follow on Twitter @omidyarnetwork #PositiveReturns.

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