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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Benefits of high-quality child care persist into adulthood

Adults who had participated in a high-quality early childhood education program in the 1970s are still benefiting from those experiences in a variety of ways, according to findings published last week in the journal Developmental Psychology.

The study provides new data from the long-running, highly regarded Abecedarian Project, which is led by the FPG Child Development Institute. Researchers have followed participants from early childhood through adolescence and young adulthood, generating a comprehensive and rare set of longitudinal data.

According to the latest study of adults at age 30, Abecedarian Project participants had significantly more years of education than peers who were part of a control group.

They were also four times more likely to have earned college degrees; 23 percent of participants graduated from a four-year college or university compared to only 6 percent of the control group.

Elizabeth Pungello, a scientist at the FPG Institute and co-author of the study, said the educational attainment findings were especially noteworthy.

“When we previously revisited them as young adults at age 21, we found that the children who had received the early educational intervention were more likely to go to college; now we know they were also more likely to make it all the way through and graduate,” Pungello said.

“What’s more, this achievement applied to both boys and girls, an important finding given the current low rate of college graduation for minority males in our country.”

Of the 111 infants originally enrolled in the project (98 percent of whom were African-American), 101 took part in the age 30 follow-up.

“Being able to follow this study sample over so many years has been a privilege,” said Frances Campbell, senior scientist at the institute and lead author of the study. “The randomized design of the study gives us confidence in saying that the benefits we saw at age 30 were associated with an early childhood educational experience.”

The Abecedarian Project was a carefully controlled scientific study of the potential benefits of early childhood education for children from low-income families who were at risk of developmental delays or academic failure.

Participants attended a full-time, year-round child-care facility from infancy until they entered kindergarten. Throughout their early years, the children were provided with educational activities designed to support their language, cognitive, social and emotional development.

Follow-up studies have consistently shown that children who received early educational intervention did better academically, culminating in an increased likelihood that they would attain an education.