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CSAs and Early Awareness: NCAN Paper Includes College Saving Among Evolving Strategies to Promote College-Going in the Middle Grades

One of the appealing qualities of Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) is that they address a number of important objectives in the development of young people, including teaching good financial habits, strengthening social and emotional skills, growing savings and building college expectations. In fact, because of this ability to impact young people in a variety of ways, some have labeled CSAs as a “Swiss Army Knife” in the field of asset-building. Thanks to a new white paper by the National College Access Network, we can now add “early awareness” strategy to the list of things CSAs can do.

NCAN’s paper, “College Access and Success Strategies That Promote Early Awareness in Middle-Level Grades,” focuses on an emerging set of college access strategies that are designed to ensure greater equity in college attainment rates by working with students in the fifth through eighth grades. Unlike more common college access strategies that work with high school students and concentrate on mentoring, getting into college, filling out the FAFSA and accessing scholarships, early awareness strategies are designed to reach younger students, especially those who may already be giving up on their college dreams. As the NCAN paper describes them, “early awareness strategies…are a group of efforts that help middle school students stay on the path to college and understand how to fund their education.”

NCAN’s paper describes four specific early awareness strategies:

  • CSAs
  • Place-based “Promise” programs, which provide a guaranteed amount for college for students within a specific geographic location
  • Early commitment scholarships, which provide a commitment of funds to low-income students who sign a pledge in middle school and meet pledge requirements throughout high school
  • Informational campaigns, age-appropriate general outreach campaigns targeted to middle school students that help students understand the importance of college and how to prepare for college (often in combination with other early awareness strategies)

For CSA practitioners and advocates, the NCAN paper may not come as a total surprise.  Much of the theory and emerging research on CSAs points to the importance of CSAs in building future aspirations or a “college-bound identity” among young people. And as a strategy that focuses explicitly on helping kids and families address the financial hurdle of paying for college, CSA advocates have long noted the connections to “Promise” programs (see paper by Prosperity Now and University of Michigan researcher, Willie Elliott, on the connection between CSA and Promise programs). What’s new here, though, is a growing recognition by leading organizations in the college access community, like NCAN, that 1) CSAs can be an effective tool for promoting college success, especially among low-income and first-generation students, and 2) CSAs have a special ability to impact younger people in ways that make them a powerful complement to more traditional college access strategies.

>At Prosperity Now, we look forward to increased collaboration with the college access community as we seek to help all kids, especially those from low-income households, build savings and aspirations for college success.