Child Development Accounts Early Childhood Economic Opportunity

Investing in our children’s futures: hope grows for Child Development Accounts

Research from the Center for Social Development at Washington University suggests nine out of ten parents aspire for their children to go to college regardless of their income, their ethnicity, or where they live.

Ask Charlene Jackson of St. Louis. She firmly believes college will one day happen for her two young grandchildren, despite her lower wages.

But that dream often fades and doesn’t become a reality for low income families. Jackson, for example, said that until recently she had no plan for how to get her grandchildren through college, but was just expecting it to all work out someday.

In the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County there are critical racial disparities when it comes to African Americans going to college. Though trends are improving, only a little more than half of African Americans 25 years and older have gone on to take college level courses. That’s compared to nearly three quarters of white residents. Finances certainly are a challenge for African American families overall. More than 30% of African American households live in poverty compared to 9% of white households.

It’s important to empower African American families like the Jacksons with strategies to get their children and grandchildren to college. How can St. Louis push more children on a path to college built on a concrete plan and not just dreams?

One strategy backed intensively by For the Sake of All is the creation of Child Development Accounts that enable families to build assets targeted for children’s higher education. The creation of such accounts is also listed among the Ferguson Commission’s “Calls to Action.” For the Sake of All and its partners believe every child in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County should be automatically enrolled in these accounts at birth. To get there, a collaborative group of partners is working on a plan to enroll 30,800 children in 20 of the region’s most high-need ZIP Codes into the Missouri MOST 529 College Savings Plan. There’s more work to be done on this venture, but momentum is building.

Research shows the accounts have positive effects for parents and children – even if assets in those accounts seem minimal or don’t approach the full cost of a college tuition. According to the SEED OK experiment conducted by the Center for Social Development, Child Development Accounts made available to a sampling of children throughout Oklahoma were found to help mothers increase expectations of their children’s education, boost mothers’ mental health, and improve children’s social-emotional development.

Several of these accounts are already in place in St. Louis. They include Beyond Housing’sPromise Accounts, which were recently highlighted in the online publication, The 74; The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis’ Future Forward program; the City of St. Louis Treasurer’s Office College Kids program; and Focus on College!, a program created by Wells Fargo and the United Way of Greater St. Louis featured in the above video. “Having money saved for college is about more than just the dollars in the account, it’s about actually instilling a sense of hope,” says For the Sake of All Director Jason Purnell in the video.

Charlene Jackson can attest to the power of Child Development Accounts. In 2015 Jackson’s grandson and granddaughter were automatically enrolled in savings accounts through the College Kids program. Jackson described the presence of the accounts as “a boost” that’s made her think more clearly about how to get her grandchildren to and through college: “They have given me the push to say, O.K., you can do this.”

WANT TO LEARN MORE? Check out For the Sake of All’s Discussion Guide on creating economic opportunity, or its full Report on the health and well-being of African Americans in the St. Louis region and why it matters for everyone.

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