School-Based Financial Education and College Savings Accounts in Elementary Schools

CFRP Report | R.009.1016

October 2016  
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

A college education provides degree earners with increased economic and professional opportunities. Though many parents want their children to earn a degree, the cost of a college education has increased and the ability for families to finance that education has diminished. This challenge is particularly great for low-income families. Nationwide, the proportion of families saving for college continues to decrease. Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) for College, which are long-term savings accounts set up for young children and often paired with financial education, offer a promising policy strategy to encourage positive savings behavior and increase college attendance among students and their families.1

OpportunityTexas, a joint initiative between RAISE Texas and the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP), launched Dollars for College, a program that introduces an in-school CSA program to the financial literacy curriculum in Texas schools. The aim of the pilot program is to expand college access by connecting students to a savings account at school. RAISE Texas and CPPP contracted with the Child and Family Research Partnership (CFRP) at the University of Texas at Austin to test research questions regarding incentives, outreach methods, and gains in financial knowledge, attitude, and behavior, and to collect feedback on the design and implementation of the pilot to inform future programs.

This report examines Texas families’ interest in children’s savings accounts (CSAs) for college and the effects of offering CSAs to students through the Dollars for College. Two separate feasibility studies were implemented among kindergarten students in a north Texas Independent School District (ISD), and among fourth-grade students in a central Texas ISD during the 2015-16 school year. In both studies, low enrollment in Dollars for College to open a CSA limited a conclusive evaluation of the proposed research questions and hypotheses.

The first feasibility study aimed to determine if kindergarten students and their families demonstrated interest in opening a CSA, and which CSA features were the most attractive to families and effective in encouraging their participation. Kindergarten students were randomly assigned at the student level to one of four combinations of incentive (seed deposit amount of either $25 or $50) and outreach strategy (magnet or no magnet). Of the 334 participating students, 27 (8.1 percent) opened a CSA. Analyses of the data show the number of account openers did not differ significantly across the four groups, suggesting that families who received the larger seed deposit ($50) and/or the targeted outreach (magnet) were no more likely to open an account than families who received the smaller seed deposit ($25) and/or no targeted outreach (no magnet).

The goal of the second feasibility study was to determine whether having the opportunity to open a CSA, and/or opening a CSA during a school-based financial education program increased fourth grade students’ knowledge, attitude, and behavior about college attendance, saving for college, and personal finance. Fourth grade students in the treatment schools were offered the childandfamilyresearch.org Dollars for College Final Report October 2016 4 opportunity to open a CSA during the financial education lessons, whereas fourth grade students in the control schools were not offered the opportunity to open a CSA until the end of the school year. All students completed a pretest at baseline and posttest at the conclusion of the financial education lessons. Of the 196 students in treatment schools, 26 (13.3%) opened a CSA. Analyses of the data revealed statistically significant gains (p<.01) overall from pre to post for all fourth grade students, and for students in the treatment and control schools in both financial knowledge and saving and banking attitudes. However, no significant differences were found in gains between students in treatment and control schools. The results suggest that the current financial education lessons in the fourth grade are an appropriate time for improving children’s financial knowledge and promoting favorable attitudes about saving and banking.

This report also evaluated the design and implementation of Dollars for College using information gathered through surveys and focus groups with teachers and parents. Though the pilot program was viewed positively among teachers and students’ families, institutional and program challenges may have impeded high participation rates in the pilot program. Findings discussed include:

  • Many families face multiple barriers to enrolling in the program
  • The dissemination of program information and steps to enrollment should be simple and easy
  • In-school events to open a savings account were a great tool for enrolling families, but limited to those who could attend
  • The timing of an in-school CSA program relative to the school year is important for participation
  • A structured financial curriculum combined with an in-school CSA program offers unique opportunity to facilitate financial capability objectives

Despite the low take-up rate of CSAs in the pilot program, the feasibility studies offer valuable insight into possible strategies to encourage student and parent engagement in the future. Families in both feasibility studies reported the financial education lessons, and to a lesser degree the CSAs, provided a platform for conversations at home about banking, budgeting, and saving for college. The feedback from teachers and parents collected in these studies will help to inform future strategies for increasing participation in school-based CSA programs, particularly among low-income students and their families. 


Click here to read the full report.