In 2021, preschool enrollment in the United States reached its lowest point since data collection began in 2005, with 4.1 million children enrolled. The 13 percentage-point dip can be predominantly attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. While enrollment has since rebounded, only 53 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in some form of a preschool program. 

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) reported in 2022 that although enrollment is rebounding in most states, progress remains uneven, and high-quality, full-day preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds is still not widely available. 

To impact the lack of universal early childhood education, the Department of Health and Human Services recently launched a center dedicated to recruiting and retaining diverse and qualified professional candidates in the early childhood education (ECE) field.

While ECE can be costly to fund, the economic benefits come in multiple forms. Most notably, a parent or guardian can reenter the workforce a year or two earlier than if they cared for their children at home–this extra year of reintegrating into the workforce results in increased family income and local economic investment. Additionally, when comparing children who attended an ECE program to those who did not, many positive influences are seen later in the child’s life. ECE students are less likely to be suspended from school and more likely to receive higher GPAs and attend college. Yearly earnings for adults who attended ECE are roughly 1.3 to 3.5 percent higher than students who did not attend preschool. These positive indicators can be attributed to the fact that learning soft skills earlier in life can set kids up for success later in life. Rather than waiting until Kindergarten to begin this development, preschool allows children to learn listening skills, social skills, coping mechanisms, and experience emotional growth a year or two earlier. 

 There has been a push by several states to expand funding for preschool, however more steps will need to be taken to make it more readily available. The non-profit sector has also been developing resources to help expand early childhood programs. The Center for American Progress and New America independently created resource packets for states and localities to use when advocating for or expanding preschool programs. These resources detail the cost-benefit analysis of such programs. Though funding ECE can be costly upfront, the long-term economic, educational, and personal well-being advantages are considerable. 

While funding ECE may pose initial financial challenges, the long-term benefits outweigh the costs. By investing in high-quality preschool programs, we not only bolster economic prosperity but also foster academic achievement and personal development for generations to come. To learn more about ECE, and its importance, visit the resources listed below.

American Progress. (2023, December 14). How to Expand Access to Affordable High-Quality Child Care and Preschool. Center for American Progress.

Crouse, G., Ghertner, R., & Chien, N. (2023). Child Care Industry Trends During the Recovery from the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Donovan, E. (2023, January 30). Women Returning Post-Pandemic Face Unique Challenges. Yahoo News.

Griffiths, A. (2023, November 15). Preschool Enrollment Rebounds.

Guevara, H. (2023, May 1). National Report on Preschool Policies Finds Uneven Progress Across States.

Hsu, N. (2023, February 15). High-Quality Pre-K Curriculum: What Does It Really Take? New America.

Landivar, L. C., & deWolf, M. (2022, May). Mothers’ Employment Two Years Later: An Assessment of Employment Loss and Recovery During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor.

Stanford, L. (2023, January 15). Which States Offer Universal Pre-K? It’s More Complicated Than You Might Think. Education Week.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2023, August 15). Preschool Enrollment on the Rise.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2023, February 2). HHS launches first national early care and education workforce center. Retrieved from