When a parent walks onto the stage on graduation day, they are not walking alone. They bring their children along – whether they join them on stage or not. As they reach for their degree, they are also reaching for better employment, higher earnings and greater stability for their family. In helping children escape the harms of poverty, nothing is more effective than supporting their parents’ college success.

Studies confirm that the most important factor in predicting a child’s future educational attainment is how far their parents progressed in school. Parental education level is extremely important for family economic stability and social mobility. College graduates are less likely to be unemployed and more likely to find new employment than those without college degrees. They are also more likely to have a pension and health insurance, thus avoiding the need for public assistance. Parents who complete a college degree can find their incomes doubling.

All of this is profoundly important for children, particularly for the poorest children in our country. For a family in the lowest economic level, a $3,000 difference in annual income is associated with a 17 percent increase in the child’s future earnings, promising a lifelong impact.

Can states help parents succeed in graduating with a college degree?

They certainly can. Several states have chosen to invest in families through supporting parents’ higher education, and now Maine has the opportunity to do the same. L.D. 1774 – An Act to Reduce Child Poverty by Leveraging Investments in Families for Tomorrow (LIFT) – is positioned to promote the future of Maine families. This is an investment that offers generational returns – as poverty can be passed along from one generation to another, so can educational attainment.

Recent research has shown that a child born into a poor family is six times less likely to earn a college degree than one born into a higher-income family. And close to half of those who do not graduate from college remain poor – but of the poor children who attain a degree, only 10 percent remain poor.

Another study, which began in 2002, tracked a cohort of 15,000 U.S. high school sophomores, following their academic achievement, college entry and graduation, and work history. Thirteen years later, just 14 percent of the participants from low-income families had earned a bachelor’s degree, while 60 percent of those from higher-income families had earned a bachelor’s degree.

The positive effects of parental education can begin as early as age 4 and persist though graduation and beyond. Importantly, maternal education has its strongest effect in early childhood, especially on cognitive development and the associated long-term benefits.

But not all parents can offer their children a model of college success. A just-released study of high school seniors in Boston found that few low-income youth actually “decide” against college. Of all children from two-degree families, 55 percent obtained a college degree while just 23 percent of children from no-degree families did.

Liz, a Maine Parents as Scholars student, understands this dilemma. She knew her family was supportive of her attending college but they didn’t know how to help, as college was not the norm in her family. “Nobody knew anything about it,” she says. “There were no university visits. There was nobody with me. I was completely on my own to figure this out.”

Parents trying to get through college understand that it is the surest pathway out of poverty. They know that most new jobs require applicants to have a college degree just to get in the door. They know they are modeling success for their children – the next generation. Yet, research has found that more than half of low-income single parents who enter college leave without completing their degree.

Low-income parents are doing a triple shift, juggling work, children’s needs and college – it can be overwhelming. That is where the larger community can get involved and make a powerful difference. L.D. 1774 can ease some of the load by guaranteeing vital support services, including funds for child care and transportation, work-study funds and on-campus mentors.

This is not just a helping hand for families trying to gain more education and move ahead. Helping parents in college is a long-term and cost effective strategy to reducing child poverty in Maine. It is an investment in the future of the state.

When young people watch their parents cross the stage and take hold of a college degree, they see their future. What could be more valuable than making sure that day arrives?