Communities can learn from this Maine program.

Many adult learners can’t afford hot meals or shelter. If they’re parents, they can’t afford child care.

Three out of five college students say they lack the necessities of life, with students of color disproportionately affected. And since everyday needs make up 80 percent of community college students’ educational expenses, it’s no surprise that many stop or delay their studies.

But there’s some good news. New, innovative programs succeed because they do two things: listen closely to students’ voices and needs, and partner with broad coalitions. That’s the formula used in Maine as desperately needed childcare centers were added in rural and low-income parts of the state.

Today, Coastal Enterprises, Inc. announced that it will expand its Child Care Business Lab, which provides training and financing to help start new home and center-based child care across Maine. Funding from Lumina Foundation and Lumina Impact Ventures will also help CEI develop a business model to expand the program nationwide. These child care centers help people work full-time, student parents stay in school, and communities prosper.

So far, more than a dozen rural and multi-lingual Maine residents have opened childcare businesses, creating 60 new jobs. One in four parents with children at these new centers has started a new job. In all, the project will help 40 new childcare centers thrive by serving nearly 330 children and enabling 150 parents to return to school or full-time work.

Listening tours

Early on, CEI did a listening tour across the state—talking to everyone from students to business experts—to better understand the issue. They found childcare to be acutely scarce in parts of Maine. That’s when the idea for the Child Care Business Lab originated.

As they listened, they built a broad coalition. They talked to state licensors, immigrant advocacy organizations, and community colleges to help tailor the program and add support to ensure that people of color can benefit and open childcare centers. Lumina’s investment will accelerate coalition-building as CEI creates a learning network to help others launch similar programs in their states.

Generation Hope followed the same formula when it listened to student parents for its 2023 policy agenda. The group offers a regional and national roadmap for policy changes to help student parents and families.

Programs like these are urgently needed. Many campus childcare centers have closed due to the pandemic and financial challenges. Yet, one-fourth of college students have children or other dependents.

We know what works

We’ve learned a lot from folks working on the ground about meeting students’ basic needs, especially Black, Hispanic and Latino, and Native American learners who face tough barriers and equity gaps. At Lumina, we’ve worked to raise awareness of this issue; our Beyond Financial Aid tool is a popular resource. Educators and government leaders increasingly agree that life circumstances—even a flat tire—can derail education goals.

Progress is welcome, but this is no time to rest. About 39 percent of students worried about going hungry in the past 30 days, and fewer than half of colleges offer housing support. And public transit routes service only 57 percent of community colleges. Communities with access to quality transportation, childcare, jobs, and education often need more affordable rental options.

Stay tuned

So, what are our next steps? Stay tuned in the coming months as we highlight promising practices and innovative ideas to break down basic needs barriers for students. By partnering with expert coalitions and listening closely to students’ voices, we can help all Americans benefit from the power of learning.

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