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Improving funding so that federal Head Start programs can partner with colleges could be the answer to the childcare needs of student parents, who numbered 3.8 million in the 2015-16 academic year, according to a study released Wednesday from the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

Head Start programs provide early childhood education as well as parental support in the form of assistance in reaching self-sufficiency goals. Nearly half of college student parents with children under 6 meet the income requirements to be eligible for Head Start, according to the study. As the number of on-campus childcare centers at colleges declines, the report says that Head Start programs could fill in the gap and help student parents achieve a degree and thus greater economic security.

The institute found 82 partnerships nationally between Head Start and colleges. Most serve student parents.

Researchers found that the partnerships allow student parents to enroll in college, give students extra support, create a family-friendly campus and introduce children to college life. They also helped colleges reach enrollment and completion goals and provided training opportunities for early childhood education students.

One of the biggest challenges for Head Start is funding. The report recommends that policy makers increase funding for the program and provide more funds for campus childcare, as well as designating funds for campus Head Start programs in areas with high need. It also recommends that colleges reach out to Head Start to form partnerships.