Filling the Gaps in CSA Research

Unlike most conferences in which experts share information with participants, last month’s Working Conference on CSA Research invited participants to roll up their sleeves and engage in discussions about the current gaps in research on children’s savings accounts (CSAs). More than 70 CSA practitioners, researchers and policymakers attended the conference, which was hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and sponsored by Prosperity Now, Inversant and the Massachusetts Treasurer’s Office

The conference set out to identify and prioritize research questions in three specific areas:

  • How CSA design features affect the impact and operations of programs
  • How to track the interim progress of CSA programs
  • The long-term impact of CSAs

On the first day, participants split into three small groups based on the research areas mentioned above, and each group identified three to four high-priority research topics. (See the full priority list here.) For example, the group discussing CSA design features identified research on the most effective incentives for fostering engagement and savings in a CSA program as a priority research topic. During an earlier session reviewing the existing CSA research evidence, Becca Loya of the Institute on Assets and Social Policy pointed out that research on benchmark incentives is limited and generally inconclusive. Better research on this topic could help CSA programs implement more effective incentives.

Since it can take 15-20 years to see the long-term impact of CSA programs on postsecondary educational attainment, the group focused on tracking interim progress explored ways to show positive outcomes in a shorter timeframe. For example, researchers could examine the impact CSA programs have on academic achievement in elementary and secondary school, focusing on established metrics showing children are on track to attend college. 

On the second day of the conference, participants identified strategies and resource needs for addressing the priority questions from the first day. Two ideas resonated the most:

  • Developing standard metrics to track CSA program outcomes, which would make it easier to measure the progress of individual CSA programs toward long-term goals and compare outcomes across programs.
  • Creating a research clearinghouse that would house research studies and tools (e.g., parent surveys), so that programs could better coordinate their research efforts and build off one another’s work, rather than duplicating efforts.

During the closing session, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Abt Associates and Prosperity Now shared that they plan to work on developing standard metrics over the next year, in coordination and collaboration with other organizations and CSA programs.

Overall, this conference went a long way toward advancing research and collaboration across the CSA field. Prosperity Now will continue working with other organizations to advance the great ideas raised at this conference.

Materials from the conference, including the agenda, PowerPoint presentations and notes are available here.

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