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The Podium

For single moms, the keys to degrees

This year, Mother’s Day will have a different meaning for 24-year-old single mom Danyelle Antone. She and her four year-old son will be planning more than just brunch: They’ll be looking ahead to a new future.

In a few weeks, Danyelle will graduate from Endicott College, a milestone she will share with her four-year-old son, who will graduate from prekindergarten. Danyelle and her son have spent the last four years living on campus as part of the Keys to Degrees program: studying, eating, and sleeping in a dorm alongside families like theirs. Juggling school and parenthood has meant late nights and long days, but Danyelle knows a degree is a ticket to a better life for her son. Institutions like Endicott are opening new doors for families like Danyelle’s – by helping two generations at a time.

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Across the country, a movement is stirring around new approaches that provide opportunities for low-income children and their parents. Why? Because research and common sense both tell us that long-lasting results will only come when we look at the whole family’s needs and potential together.

We know that being a single mom is tough: In the United States, 41 percent of women-headed families lived in poverty in 2011. We also know that one generation passes down opportunity to the next. According to Stanford sociologist Sean Reardon, the achievement gap between high- and low-income students has increased by 40 percent in the last 30 years. Wealthy children are dramatically outperforming their middle-class and poor classmates across test scores, grades — even extracurricular activities. In short, wealthy parents are doubling down in their child’s education, while low-income parents are struggling to just get by.

For the future of our country and our families’ economic security, we must create a new cycle of opportunity.

Take the Jeremiah Program in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, which provides housing to single mothers who are enrolled in postsecondary education and sends their children to a high-quality early childhood program on site. With the support of career counselors and support groups, the families of Jeremiah Program are paving a fresh path toward economic security: in 2011, 40 percent of Jeremiah Program participants graduated with a bachelor’s degree and 60 percent with an associate’s degree, while all enrolled children were succeeding in preschool.

Here in Massachusetts, Endicott College’s Keys to Degrees program – which has an 80 percent employment rate among graduates and has spawned almost a dozen similar programs at colleges around the nation – holds real promise to help mothers and their children achieve their dreams together. It’s the right thing and the smart thing to do.

We know what works. Economists have shown high quality early education yields $7to $10 for every $1 we invest. Research from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project shows that someone with a college degree is three times as likely to move from the bottom of the family income ladder all the way to the top as someone without one. Think about the economic and human multiplier effect if mothers and their children had the opportunity to realize their potential together.

Our nation’s policies and programs for families too often forget a simple fact: in order for one generation to succeed, we must support the other at the same time. We can do better. What might this city look like if even half of our 60 colleges and universities took a page out of the Endicott College playbook?

This Mother’s Day, send a card to Mom, but also take a moment to appreciate mothers like Danyelle who have worked so hard to create a new family tradition of opportunity. As she said of her son, “[My dream] is that he looks at me and thinks, ‘If my mom was able to accomplish all that she did, then so can I.’”

Anne Mosle is vice president of The Aspen Institute. Dr. Richard Wylie is president of Endicott College.
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