The Community Foundation of Wabash County’s Promise Scholarship program (Promise Scholars) was conceived and implemented with the goal of improving educational outcomes by providing opportunities to earn scholarship awards at a much earlier stage than traditional scholarship programs. More than just a commitment, deposits are awarded directly into the child’s 529 as they are earned. This approach deviates in important ways from traditional college savings account programs, traditional scholarship programs, and even early commitment scholarship programs. In Promise Scholars, children not only receive a CSA, but they also receive early award scholarships directly, and immediately, rather than as the promise of money in the future.
This report provides an update to 2017 Participation and Savings Patterns in the Wabash County Promise Scholarship Program: Year 1 (O’Brien, Elliott, Lewis & Jung, 2018). The initial 2017 report included all 4th - 8th graders in Wabash County during the 2016-2017 academic year, which also served as the first year of the Wabash County Promise Scholars program. Accumulated savings in Promise Indiana 529s, Promise Scholarship awards and match, and free/reduced lunch status provided by the schools were used to obtain a cross-sectional view of the impact of the first program year. For the current report, we examine enrollment, savings behaviors, and asset accumulation for participants who enrolled in Promise Scholars during the first three academic years of the program: 2016/2017, 2017/2018, and 2018/2019. As with the first report, we include scholarship earnings, 529 savings data to date, as well as free/reduced lunch status provided by the schools to compare savings outcomes across program participants and non-participants and across poor and non-poor families.
This study conducted two cluster randomized trials using household-level random assignment to test the impact of a rewards cards program at two different locations: Wabash County Indiana and the City of St. Louis. Findings show the treatment group in Indiana had a greater than three-fold increase in savings activity in CSAs, and in St Louis had a greater than seven-fold increase in savings activity in CSAs. These findings suggest that rewards cards can be an effective strategy for engaging families of different backgrounds in saving activities.