Two-Generation Approaches Are Critical to Colorado’s Success

two-generation bell policy center

 “A better life for my kids.”
“To get a good enough job to get off section 8 and live in a better area.”

These were just two of the responses I received when I asked a panel of student parents why they enrolled in a postsecondary education program. From our conversation, it was clear to me the ultimate motivation behind these two student parents pursuing higher education is to improve the lives of their children. As single parents working to make ends meet, they believe finding a job with livable wages that can support their families requires, at a minimum, a postsecondary credential.

These responses reveal the core foundation of an important Bell focus: To actually advance both child and student parent outcomes, policies and programs must simultaneously focus on the individual successes of both parents and their children.

When this is done correctly, what we get is a two-generation approach — a strategy that supports entire families holistically and acts as a crucial part of Colorado’s success.

For a program to be a true two-generation (sometimes referred to as “two-gen” or “2gen”) strategy, the Bell Policy Center believes it must include three components in its implementation and design:

  1. Intentionality: Designing the program to intentionally support the multiple needs of the child and parent simultaneously
  2. Measuring multiple outcomes: Monitoring and measuring the outcomes of both the child and parent
  3. Self-sufficiency: Providing supports and access to opportunities that break the cycle of intergenerational poverty by lifting the family into self-sufficiency.

The stories from student parents shared above are a part of a local two-gen approach called the Strengthening Working Families Initiative (SWFI), a pilot program funded in 2016 by the U.S. Department of Labor. Housed at the Community College of Aurora and Community College of Denver, SWFI provides students with a child care subsidy, a navigation coach, an achievement coach, and career guidance.

Aimed at the long-term advancement and self-sufficiencyof student parents, the program intentionally provides navigation to student parents to better help them access high-quality child care that both meets the needs of the child and the demands on student parents. By looking at both the long-term educational outcomes of the children and the economic advancement outcomes of the parents, we can truly measure the effectiveness of this program.

As students with children too often leave a college without obtaining a credential, it’s essential school administrators help these students overcome child care barriers to ensure their institution’s larger graduation and employment outcomes. However, there are multiple challenges to consider, including student parents’ access to child care, transportation, affordable housing, and food assistance.

For example, child care assistance programs don’t fund the types of services and hours of operation required for parents to work nontraditional shifts or attend evening classes. Obtaining income or food assistance for their family may negatively affect students’ eligibility to obtain financial assistance needed for their credential program. The high-quality child care center that meets the specific needs of a child might be hours away from a parent’s job or school program. Additionally, the burdens of being a student parent can lead to greater student debt, making long-term economic advancement even further out of reach.

At the core, parents strive to provide a better life for their children. Listening to the challenges of these student parents reminded me Colorado cannot advance the outcomes of children if it cannot help parents overcome the barriers to their own advancement. Children won’t benefit from siloed approaches, and parents cannot thrive in today’s postsecondary education or workforce without critical supports such as child care or access to health care. But for far too long our education and workforce systems haven’t made the connection that the critical needs of children are dependent upon the parent’s ability to support them in the process.

As one SWFI student parent said, “[SWFI] understand[s] the challenges of going to school and having kids at the same time.” To be truly successful at advancing self-sufficiency, Colorado needs to build upon models like SWFI and use the two-gen lens when developing new programs and policies. Moving forward, we might consider programs that provide flexible, high-quality child care programs onsite at community colleges or larger employers. We might also apply the two-gen lens to adults taking care of their older parents: How can we improve the employment outcomes of adult caretakers while also improving the health outcomes of aging adults?

The outcomes are endless when we view the world with a two-gen lens. The time to start is yesterday.