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Can Children’s Savings Account Programs Help Black and Latine Families Better Access College?

October 25, 2023

Black and Latine young adults in the United States tend to experience greater barriers to post-secondary education than do their white and Asian peers. Some of the barriers experienced by Black and Latine young adults include:

  • A higher likelihood of being a first-generation college student;
  • The opportunity costs of having to work to meet family financial needs; and 
  • The racial wealth gap, which results in fewer resources available for Black and Latine families to support their children’s post-secondary education.

Children’s savings accounts (CSAs) are long-term savings or investment accounts that provide program contributions (e.g., initial deposits or savings matches) to help children and their families—especially those from low-income households—build dedicated savings for post-secondary education. CSA programs (such as 529s) often provide additional supports to build families’ financial capability and knowledge about the college application process.

Because CSAs often engage families when students are in kindergarten, these programs have the potential to be a key tool in addressing the unique challenges that Black and Latine students face. However, CSA programs are relatively new and, as a result, we do not have a good understanding of the ways these CSA programs are addressing challenges faced by Black and Latine students when accessing and completing college.

To begin filling in this knowledge gap, Abt Global and Prosperity Now examined what CSA programs are doing to address challenges faced by Black and Latine students who engage with CSAs and ultimately access and complete post-secondary education.

Abt and Prosperity Now conducted case studies at four different CSA programs that work with a majority Black or Latine program participant population—Boston Saves, KC Scholars, Lansing SAVE, and Oakland Promise.

Each case study drew on data from a series of interviews with program staff and partners, and each includes a review of outcome data and program materials including reports and evaluations. In some cases, the research team spoke with graduates of the CSA program, or families participating in the program. Our report summarizes findings from these four case studies.

Intersections of Race and Class

Trying to understand how CSA programs were addressing the barriers that Black and Latine students faced meant understanding the ways that race and class intersect in the U.S. The structural legacy of racism means that Black and Latine families have, on average, fewer financial resources than their white peers. While class-related challenges, although originating in racism, are not unique to Black and Latine families, other issues are, such as discrimination based on an individual’s ethnic identity, race, or language. Teasing these differences out is tricky. They are wound together in practice. The research team attempted to articulate where these factors intersected, and where specific racial or ethnic identity factors were at play.

Key Findings

Each of the CSA programs is attempting in different ways to reduce the barriers faced by Black and Latine students to getting into and through college. Our key findings are:

  • The four CSA case study programs have areas of focus within which they theorize they can reduce barriers that Black and Latine students face in getting to and through college. Specifically, most of the programs focus on (1) fostering expectations for college from a young age and (2) addressing smaller sums—essentially creating a safety net through the CSA for gaps left by financial aid and scholarships.
  • The case study programs serve as linchpins around which a range of partners working to advance post-secondary access and success and economic mobility can converge. Since CSA programs generally enroll participants at a young age and continue engaging with them through elementary, middle, and high school, they can be the foundation for bringing together partners focused on college access, scholarships, and other related services over a student's academic career.
  • CSAs increase the length of students' exposure to college access interventions. The college access literature shows that specific interventions—for example, providing information about how to apply to college— increase college access and completion rates for low-income and first-generation students and, to a more limited extent, for Black and Latine students. CSAs take some of those interventions and apply them at lower doses and intensity, but over a longer period of time.  
  • The degree to which the four case study programs directly focus on supporting Black and Latine students and use targeted strategies varies. Case study CSA programs were largely not targeting their financial resources based on participants’ race. Instead, CSA programs used income as a proxy since Black and Latine families are disproportionately low- income and low wealth. Targeting resources to lower-income households means that CSA programs are serving higher numbers of Black and Latine students and their families. However, without targeted strategies, some of the challenges faced specifically by Black and Latine students may go unaddressed.
  • Case study programs have some of the data they need to assess how they are serving Black and Latine participants and other populations, but they are still in a learning and innovation phase as they experiment with how to address differences in program outputs and outcomes by race. Data on students' race and other demographic factors can be difficult for CSA programs to obtain at the individual level. Even the case study programs with more access to data are still in the early phase of determining how to address the differences they are seeing in outputs and outcomes by race. Overall, the case study programs’ experiences show that ongoing conversations and learning are needed in the CSA field to develop best practices around tracking outcomes by race and employing innovative solutions to address any disparities in outcomes.

Opportunities for CSA programs and the field

The experiences of case study CSA programs indicate that many CSA programs are only just beginning to grapple with racial equity issues—including thinking through how to best serve Black and Latine participants. The report suggests some steps CSA programs and the field can take to further promote racial equity. For example:

  • Developing a comprehensive continuum of post-secondary education access and completion services.
  • Providing targeted additional funds to promote equity.
  • Assessing existing program contributions with an equity lens.
  • Developing targeted outreach and engagement strategies.

Additional research is needed to build off this initial analysis and to understand more deeply the impact of CSAs on post-secondary educational access for Black and Latine participants, but this report provides a guide for doing so.

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