Longer Early Childhood Intervention Linked To Greater Post-Secondary Attainment

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
“preschool joy” by kristin :: prairie daze is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Arthur J. Reynolds, PhD
Institute of Child Development
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?  

Response: Educational attainment is the leading social determinant of health. Higher attainment measured by years of education or postsecondary attainment is linked to lower cardiovascular disease risk; lower rates of smoking, diabetes, and hypertension; and higher economic well-being.

Evidence on the long-term effects of early childhood programs on educational attainment is mixed. Some studies show impacts on high school graduation but not college attainment, the reverse pattern, or no measurement into adulthood. No studies of large-scale public programs have assessed impacts beyond young adulthood. Whether duration of participation over ages 3 to 9 is linked to mid 30s attainment also has not been investigated.

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

Response: We found that graduates of an intensive early childhood education program from preschool to third grade (Child-Parent Center Program) had higher levels of educational attainment by age 35, including higher rates of earned postsecondary degrees, than did a similar group who received other intervention services as children.

Among those receiving an intervention in preschool, those in the CPC group were more likely to achieve an associate’s degree or higher (15.7 percent vs. 10.7 percent), a bachelor’s degree (11.0 percent vs. 7.8 percent) or a master’s degree (4.2 percent vs. 1.5 percent).  These differences translate to a 47 percent increase over the comparison group in an earned associate’s degree or higher and a 41 percent increase in an earned bachelor’s degree or higher.

CPC graduates through second or third grade showed even greater gains: for an associate’s degree or higher (18.5 percent vs. 12.5 percent), a bachelor’s degree (14.3 percent vs. 8.2 percent), and a master’s degree (5.9 percent vs. 2.3 percent). This translates to a 48 percent increase in associate’s degree or higher for the program group and a 74 percent increase for bachelor’s degree or higher. 

We also found that duration of intervention was linked to postsecondary attainment and degree completion in gradient fashion as participants with five or six years of intervention experiencing the largest increases in attainment. 

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report? 

Response: Since educational attainment is the leading social determinant of health, our findings indicate that large-scale programs run by school districts can have lasting effects on not only education but also have the potential to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and related problems.”

Only about half of young children are enrolled in public PreK programs, and less than 10 percent participate in P-3 programs that follow the key principles of CPC. Thus, increased access to high-quality education and family support services can make a big difference in adult success, including postsecondary degree attainment. Children from low-income families are less likely to attend college than their higher-income peers. A strong system of educational and family supports in children’s first decade as provided by CPC is an innovative avenue to improve educational outcomes leading to better health and greater economic well-being. 

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work? 

Response: Next steps will be to examine whether these impacts on education carry over to physical and mental health, including lower risks for cardiovascular disease, smoking and obesity, and depression and psychological well-being. The processes by which early education and years of early education enhances attainment should also be a focus. 

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: The key program elements that help ensure that gains will be sustained well into adulthood include the following: 

  • (1) Child to staff ratios no higher than 17 to 2 (25 to 2 in kindergarten to 3rd grade),
  • (2) Intensive focus on readiness skills within a developmental philosophy,
  • (3) provision of family services,
  • (4) frequent monitoring and feedback,
  • (5) teachers have BAs and/or are compensated at comparable levels of K-12 teachers
  • (6) alignment of curriculum and professional development across ages, and
  • (7) presence of a well-developed organizational support system (e.g., school district or an inter-organizational partnership of community and schools).

Resources are available at Human Capital Research Collaborative (http://hcrc.umn.edu), an interdisciplinary research center at the University of Minnesota offers a multitude of resources for the Child-Parent Center Preschool to 3rd grade program (CPC P-3)implementation, including monitoring toolsmanuals, and extensive resources on the website, CPCP3.org.

See also the Chicago Longitudinal Study web site and resources (http://cehd.umn.edu/icd/cls).


Reynolds AJ, Ou S, Temple JA. A Multicomponent, Preschool to Third Grade Preventive Intervention and Educational Attainment at 35 Years of Age. JAMA Pediatr. Published online January 29, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.4673

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Last Updated on January 30, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD