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Seeing Gap in Low-Income Family Educational Attainment, El Monte Promise Foundation Steps In

The mission of El Monte is simple: to promote a college-ready culture in the El Monte region, which is located near Los Angeles, California. El Monte Promise Foundation helps local students go to college in the hopes of encouraging children from the community to come back and invest in future generations.

The work of the El Monte Promise Foundation came about because of the needs of the local community in providing education and resources to help low-income families financially prepare for their children’s post-secondary education. Through a research project conducted by Dr. Julie Mendoza and fellow colleagues, the data showed many families – regardless of their income level – want their children to be successful and to continue their education after high school. Much to the dismay and shock of the Foundation’s members, the research indicated that dreams and aspirations of higher education often died out for low-income families as their children grew up. When probed, low-income families often cited that they simply don’t have the means to pay for the pre-college related expenses to support their children. Consequently, many parents felt pre-college-related expenses promoted a dream they could not financially support for their children. The research found that the will to pursue higher education is there for many families, but the means to pay for a higher education is daunting and discouraging.

First grade students from Voorhis Elementary School and Mayor Andre Quintero smiling together during the Scholars Savings Program public launch, March 2015.

In response to the research by Dr. Mendoza and others, the El Monte Promise Foundation has been working since its founding in 2012 to implement an opportunity to save for a post-secondary education for the families through the Scholars Savings Program (SSP). SSP is heavily tailored to meet the needs of the Foundation’s demographics. Residents of the City of El Monte within Los Angeles County is home to a majority of Latino and Asian families, many of whom are foreign born and are monolingual non-English speaking households. The program has no upfront costs to open and maintain a family's college savings, and account holders do not need a bank account to start saving for their children’s education. Additionally, the Foundation offers a financial literacy curriculum for parents and children.

The program is one of four main initiatives of the Foundation where families can start saving for their children’s education with a 529 college savings plan. SSP will finish its second year in the next few months, and to date, families have saved over $65,000 among over 200 account holders. The goal of the program is not to fully finance a child’s college education but to encourage families and children to set expectations for the child from an early age to pursue a post-secondary education while financially preparing for the child’s future. Research shows that when a child has the expectation he or she will graduate from high school, and has a college savings account in his or her name, a child is three times more likely to go to college compared to a child without expectations or support for their educational future.

SSP also offers monetary incentives for families who participate in the program, and the incentives serve as one of the larger motivating factors for starting a college savings. The Foundation structures the incentives to promote and encourage families to build regular saving habits because SSP is more focused on teaching participants financial skills and long-term financial planning than solely amassing large amounts of savings. El Monte Promise Foundation projects families will save more than $20.5 million through their SSP accounts. Altogether, these savings incentives, increased college access and financial skills aim to help families and their children prepare for postsecondary expenses.

For more information about El Monte Promise Foundation, and to support their efforts, visit https://promisenow.org.

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