Building community through scholarships: The promise of economic mobility in the Save for College Program
Higher education has long been recognized as one of the most powerful vehicles for upward economic mobility. College graduates in New York City have lower rates of unemployment, and higher lifetime earnings, than non-college graduates, among other positive outcomes. Yet post-secondary tuition has risen dramatically over the past few decades, amidst a substantial racial wealth gap. These increasing educational costs fall largely on students and their families, with Black young adults and other youth of color taking on substantially more debt than their white counterparts. This creates barriers to enrollment and later financial challenges for low-income New Yorkers and undermines the City’s ability to promote equitable economic mobility.
Save for College Program
Since 2017, New York City Kids RISE (NYCKR) — a nonprofit — has worked in partnership with the City of New York to combat these trends and advance upward economic mobility through its Save for College Program, a scholarship and savings platform that provides scholarships to every eligible student and tools to help families develop their own savings plans. The Save for College Program works with families, schools, and communities to support savings and increased expectations for higher education attendance, and is working to cultivate localized wealth-building asset development, starting at the early stages of life.
Every participating student and family in the program receives an NYC Scholarship account — with funds provided via philanthropic and other community-driven sources — and receives information and support to set up their own college savings plan. This dual account structure is meant to serve as a robust and shared platform for investment in the economic and social resiliency of New York City’s families and neighborhoods, and it provides a way to drive financial assets into the hands of lower-income communities and communities of color that have been systematically excluded from wealth-building opportunities.
Project to Date
The Save for College Program recently completed the third year of its three-cohort pilot phase in NYC School District 30, located in western Queens. To date, 39 public schools are participating in the program; over 10,000 first, second and third-grade students have enrolled in the program; and over 5,000 families have activated and viewed their child’s NYC Scholarship accounts online. Families have accumulated over $3.9 million in total assets for participating students’ college and career futures, including contributions from NYC Kids RISE (NYCKR), community scholarships, and families’ own savings — a testament to what pooling community assets can look like for families on their pathway towards economic mobility. Additionally, leveraging the platform to further foster community resiliency during the COVID-19 pandemic, NYCKR has worked with its network of schools to provide over $1 million in emergency relief to Queens communities most impacted by the crisis.
The program has been a robust public-private-community partnership since its inception, and NYC Opportunity has been a proud partner of NYCKR from the beginning. NYC Opportunity, in collaboration with research partners, provided thought-partnership on performance management and evaluation, and how to make the program equitable and accessible for New Yorkers. We have sought to learn directly from New Yorkers regarding their barriers to building financial assets for education and career development. Early on, we conducted focus groups with dozens of families who had low incomes to get a better perspective on their thoughts about saving for college, and their familiarity with tools for savings, such as 529 accounts. In partnership with NYCKR, we also looked at what could be learned from similar models in other cities and existing research on college savings accounts, place-based investments, financial empowerment practices, and community-based programming. We developed an understanding of how to set up structures to promote equity and inclusion.
Collaboration with Urban Institute
Most recently, NYC Opportunity has partnered with NYCKR and the Urban Institute to develop a new parent/guardian survey so NYCKR can better understand how parents engage with the program, and to release “Upward Mobility through a Universal College and Career Asset-Building Platform,” a report on the unique promise of the Save for College Program. The report provides a detailed overview of the program, a logic model that outlines the key pillars of the community-driven economic platform NYCKR is working to establish, and related measurement strategies, and the next promising steps the organization can take to understand its efficacy and progress toward its goals.
This program has the potential for impact at multiple levels, by supporting children and families directly, and by creating new relationships and platforms that support community wealth-building. NYC Opportunity is proud to support the program through research, performance management and evaluation support that can help us ensure we are having the effects we seek in this ambitious undertaking. NYCKR and NYC Opportunity will continue to work together to field future parent/ guardian surveys; understand the program’s performance and impact; map out a research agenda; develop a research advisory council; and pilot new interventions to increase engagement for the program’s current participants. Ultimately our hope is that the platform scales to incorporate more communities across New York City. We are excited to journey together towards ensuring every child in the city has an opportunity to achieve economic mobility.