Facilitating Postsecondary Education and Training for TANF Recipients

| Gayle Hamilton, Susan Scrivener

Increasing education among low-income parents is a vital component of policies to improve families’ economic status. This policy brief draws on rigorous studies to highlight what is known about effects to encourage participation in and completion of postsecondary education among recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance and other low-income populations. It is challenging to increase higher education enrollment, particularly among low-income, employed single parents. However, some community-college-based programs have succeeded, although only one has increased school persistence in the medium term.

The research shows that some strategies can increase TANF recipients’ and other low-income adults’ engagement and persistence in postsecondary education and training and can boost earnings. Moreover, it shows that various agencies and institutions can work together to promote higher education among low-income parents. But new, potentially more effective interventions are needed, and new interventions — along with promising current ones — must be rigorously tested and the successful ones brought to scale. Taking into account strategies found to be effective and hypotheses for why some tested programs were not effective, the brief suggests the following approaches:

  • Adopting a career pathways framework. Programs using this framework generally offer academic, occupational, and life-skills training that employers value, financial and supportive services, and defined links to employment opportunities, with a goal of moving individuals up career pathways.
  • Use a sector approach. While this approach has shown promise on a small scale, it would be useful to examine whether sector-based training programs can be implemented on a larger scale than previously, as well as in different settings and focusing on different sectors.
  • Incorporate more reforms within community college settings. Given community colleges’ extensive role in educating and training low-income adults, improving their programs is key.
  • Explore ways for more low-income adults to receive a high school diploma or GED in concert with, or before quickly transitioning to, vocational training and postsecondary education.