Incoming St. Louis Public Schools and charter school kindergarteners will soon receive packets in the mail with their new bank account numbers – and a starting balance of $50.
In August, St. Louis City Treasurer Tishaura O. Jones’ office will launch the College Kids program to provide college savings seed accounts to kindergartners.
“If we are serious about changing the trajectory in our city, the one thing that students lack is hope,” Jones said. “College savings accounts give children hope. This is an investment we can make in our children today.”
On Tuesday, June 9, Jones was among six people nationwide – two from St. Louis – who were honored at the Clinton Global Initiative Conference in Denver for being part of a nationwide effort to increase the number of children with college savings accounts.
Michael Sherraden, founder of the Center for Social Development at the Brown School at Washington University, also took the stage with Jones and shook hands with former president Bill Clinton.
As part of College Kids, children will also be eligible to earn additional college funds based upon incentives for good grades, attendance and behavior. Parents and guardians will also be able to contribute money to the accounts.
College savings accounts are critical to increasing the number of college graduates, Jones said. Research indicates that low- and moderate-income children with college savings of just $500 or less are three times more likely to enroll in college and four times more likely to graduate.
Jones said St. Louis’ program is virtually identical to a program started in 2011 by José Cisneros, treasurer of the City and County of San Francisco. Clinton also recognized Cisneros at the conference on Tuesday.
About 2,600 families have saved more than $1 million combined over the last four years, according to San Francisco's Kindergarten to College program. About half of the California families who are actively saving have a household income of less than $40,000 a year for a family of four.
Jones attended a conference last year, where she heard from some of the families who participated in San Francisco’s program.
“They brought up families who were in different stages in savings,” she said. “The kids, no matter what stage they were at, their mindset is totally different.”
Children saw that the money they spend on a new phone could be put in their savings account, she said, and parents also regularly contributed.
All the St. Louis accounts will be held at 1st Financial Federal Credit Union, which is leading a partnership with lending institutions that includes Wells Fargo, Vista Share and CFED’s 1:1 Fund, as well as St. Louis Public Schools and Missouri Charter Public School Association.
Sherraden has frequently praised the treasurer’s program. At Washington University, Sherraden is leading a similar project, SEED for Oklahoma Kids, which gave 1,346 children a much larger $1,000 college savings account at birth.
“We find that if the children have a college savings account their parents have higher expectations for their educational achievement,” Sherraden said. “We know that’s very much associated with educational achievement later on. We have more positive measures of child development, especially social and emotional development, with children and their mothers.”
Sherraden spoke about these results at the May 2014 release of “For the Sake of All,” a multi-disciplinary report on the health of African Americans in St. Louis. The report – conducted by seven researchers from Washington University and Saint Louis University and led by Jason Q. Purnell, an assistant professor at the Brown School – revealed 67 pages of evidence that blacks in the St. Louis region endure hideous disparities in health outcomes, compared to their white counterparts.
Sherraden said mothers in the Oklahoma study also report fewer depressive symptoms than a control group of mothers.
“This shows you can actually put in place better economic opportunities for people, and people will respond to those opportunities,” Sherraden said, “and evidence suggests that as a result people’s lives will be better.”
Originally published June 11, 2015 in the St. Louis American. Author Rebecca Rivas.