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Two New Resources Highlight Path Forward to CSA Expansion

The recently-released 2017 Prosperity Now Scorecard shows several promising educational attainment trends. The national on-time high school graduation rate increased for the fifth consecutive year and now stands at 83%. Student loan default rates also declined for the third straight year. However, these sunny overall statistics mask more a complex reality that is evident when looking at trends for specific populations. For example, on-time high school graduation rates for White and Asian students remain higher than rates for Black, Latino and Native American students.

By 2020, nearly two-thirds of jobs will require a postsecondary degree. Expanding access to postsecondary education is critical to ensuring the economy works for everyone, not just those at the top. Children's Savings Accounts (CSAs), which are designed to increase access to postsecondary education, can help counter disparities in educational attainment.

CSAs are long-term savings or investment accounts that provide incentives to encourage children and their families to build dedicated savings for postsecondary education. Research has found that CSAs improve early childhood development and academic performance. Additionally, children whose parents save for college expenses are less likely to take out high-dollar student loans. Therefore, CSAs can be a part of addressing the inequities in on-time graduation rates and student loan default rates.

CSA activity surged during the recent state legislative session. Both chambers of the Illinois legislature passed a universal CSA program, and they will likely reconcile their differing versions of the bill in the fall. A universal CSA bill passed a key California State Assembly committee in April, and it will go to the Appropriations Committee in the next session. Legislators in Oregon, Washington and New Hampshire also introduced bills to create CSA programs.

To support CSA expansion, Prosperity Now created a new resource for state and local policymakers which contains important, accessible information to promote CSAs. This resource document defines CSAs, provides compelling research findings on them – for example, up to just $500 in a CSA makes children three times more likely to attend and four times more likely to graduate from college – and answers frequently asked questions. This resource is a great handout to familiarize policymakers with the key features of CSA programs and the benefits of having a program in their state or city.

As described in this new resource, policymakers now have a plethora of models on which to build their CSA programs. For example, some programs have started through legislation, while others have come about administratively. A new Brandeis University Institute on Assets and Social Policy (IASP) paper highlights how a convening organization and a climate of open communication helped spread CSAs across the New England region. With the help of other CSA program coordinators and intermediary organizations like Prosperity Now, more state and municipal governments can create CSA programs.

Although overall trends on educational attainment are positive, we have a long way to go to close the disparities that persist for marginalized populations. CSAs are a proven tool that increases parents’ and students’ expectations for the future, improves childhood development and promotes postsecondary education access. More policymakers should use these new resources to bring CSAs to their constituencies.

If you are interested in receiving ongoing information on CSA news and developments, visit savingsforkids.org and sign-up for the bi-monthly newsletter.