6 Reasons to Unite Child Savings Accounts and College Access-Success Programs

In a new report co-written by the National College Access Network and Prosperity Now, The Power of Connecting Children’s Savings Accounts and College Access-Success Programs, we observed that although Children’s Savings Account (CSA) programs and college access-success programs share a common goal of increasing college-going and college graduation rates, these efforts are often isolated. While we understand that combining or partnering between programs can be challenging, we believe there are powerful incentives for these two fields to align their efforts in states and communities. Plus, there are already some strong examples of the combined approach that show how to overcome potential complexities.

So why should CSAs and college access-success programs work together? These are the reasons we found most compelling:                                                                                                                                                                                        

  1. Although most college access-success interventions don’t begin until middle or high school, CSAs established at birth or in early childhood can help build a child’s college-going identity during elementary school.
  2. CSAs help low-income parents believe from an early age that college is possible for their child and provide a touchpoint for providing more information about the ability of need-based financial aid to help pay for college as the child gets older. They help parents feel engaged and invested in their child’s future college attendance.
  3. As more states adopt universal CSA programs, ideally with state-funded contributions for low-income families, college access-success programs can educate policymakers about the full range of supportive services throughout the K-12 years that complement CSAs and get students into and through postsecondary study.
  4. With many CSA programs providing accounts in early childhood or elementary school, college access-success programs are positioned to give students the additional supports proven to increase postsecondary enrollment during middle and high school such as enrolling in college preparatory classes, taking the SAT or ACT, submitting at least three college applications and completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  5. Many college access-success programs give “last-dollar” scholarships of $500 to $3,000 to students that cover expenses not met by their postsecondary financial aid packages. CSAs can result in equivalent amounts of savings for students to use in a similar way and may attract new funders who had not previously donated to support scholarships.  
  6. Students need simplicity. The college-going process is hard enough, so the more that programs can work together to create a streamlined, one-stop shop experience for students, the better.

For these reasons and more, we invite you to review this report, which contains background, examples and recommendations for program adoption or integration. It opens with a brief description of the origins of both the CSA and college access-success fields, demonstrating our common goal of providing transformational economic opportunity to families with low incomes. We then provide four case studies of organizations that have already successfully integrated children’s savings with college access services: The “I Have a Dream” Foundation, Inversant, SOAR Virginia and the Community Foundation of Wabash County. Finally, the report concludes with two sets of recommendations:

  • For CSA programs – How to connect with providers in the college access-success field and suggestions for incorporating research-based, college access milestones into existing or planned savings incentives. 
  • For college access-success organizations – How to find CSA partners and, when none are available, a simple process for creating a basic CSA model. 

We welcome your feedback and questions about the report at savingsforkids@prosperitynow.org.

For the latest updates on the CSA field and to learn about upcoming CSA events and webinars, sign up for the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future.

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