How Cities Can Implement Successful CSA Programs for Local Families

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Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) are emerging in as a way cities can help even the most low-income children and families save for college and potentially disrupt cycles of multi-generational poverty.

Research shows that when a child has a savings account – even if that account holds less than $500 – she is three times more likely to enroll in college and four times more likely to graduate. (Getty Images)
Research shows that when a child has a savings account – even if that account holds less than $500 – she is three times more likely to enroll in college and four times more likely to graduate. (Getty Images)

When higher education becomes an expectation as early as kindergarten, parents save and children know that college is an attainable goal. CSAs often include an initial deposit into a savings account for young children, incentives for children and their parents to save, and opportunities to engage parents and children through financial education and other activities. After seeing pioneer cities that were part of an National League of Cities’ (NLC) Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) peer network launch CSA programs over the past year, a new group of cities is exploring how some of the lessons learned apply in diverse environments: urban and rural, large and small.

In conjunction with our partners at the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), YEF Institute staff will take part in an Oct. 28 webinar focusing on how municipalities can implement successful CSA programs for local families. All city staff are invited to join.

With support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, this peer network is thinking strategically about design and implementation of their programs, how to tie programs to postsecondary success efforts and local financial inclusion, and how to launch successfully to reach and engage residents. Participating cities include Louisville, Kentucky; Durham, North Carolina; Oakland, California; Garden City, Michigan; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Boston; Chelsea, Massachusetts; St. Louis, Missouri; and San Francisco.

With the examples of cities like Durham, San Francisco and St. Louis – which continue to participate in learning collaborative initiatives as they strengthen and expand their projects – cities exploring CSAs have the opportunity to learn from a variety of models. Programs vary dramatically in terms of size and savings goals, and the participating cities face challenges with very different populations.

However, the process of program design requires all cities to ask similar questions: What is the current expectation of college attainment for children in my city? Which partners do I need to bring to the table? How do we partner with local businesses, foundations, community organizations, or others who might support this program with funding or wraparound services? Should I start with one classroom, or a whole school district?

No matter how they choose to implement CSAs, cities will need to think critically about the infrastructure upon which their program is built. Exploring savings account structures, determining how accounts and financial education will fit into the school day, and investigating technological systems will help cities design programs that function smoothly from day one.

More importantly, cities are strengthening relationships with stakeholders to raise community expectations around saving for and attending college. On a recent call with cities that are part of the peer network, Phil Maurizi, vice president of Promise Indiana, a CSA initiative operating in 14 counties, emphasized the importance of community ownership of a CSA program. Without buy-in from a wide range of stakeholders, a CSA program will fall short of changing city culture. Cities don’t just need to think about the nuts and bolts of savings accounts, they must engage the members of the community and the local institutions that ensure success.

The National League of Cities’ CSA project is part of a national campaign to integrate savings into the systems that already serve children and families. Cities can still join the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future, which supports access to CSAs nationwide and is working to connect 1.4 million kids to CSAs by 2020.

Join us for the Oct. 28 webinar to learn best practices cities and counties can use to develop their own CSA programs.

Lily Roberts photoAbout the author: Lily Roberts is an Intern with the NLC YEF Institute’s Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment team.