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.
Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) are interventions that seek to build assets for children to use as longterm investments (Goldberg, 2005; Sherraden, 1991), particularly for postsecondary education. Provided through financial institutions, CSAs generally include progressive features, such as initial seed deposits, financial incentives for attaining certain academic benchmarks, or matches for savings deposits (e.g., Elliott & Lewis, 2014). Distinct among financial aid policies for their cultivation of improved outcomes throughout children’s lives, CSAs aim to equip children, particularly those who are disadvantaged, with assets that have demonstrated associations with academic achievement (Elliott, Kite, O’Brien, Lewis, & Palmer, 2016) and educational attainment (Elliott, 2013; Elliott & Beverly, 2011). CSAs also connect households to mainstream financial institutions (Friedline, 2014), activating families to save for their children’s futures and their later financial well-being.
This report examines enrollment, savings behaviors, and asset accumulation in the Wabash County Promise Scholarships program, which deposits early-commitment scholarship awards into children’s college savings accounts, in an effort to improve educational outcomes. The rationale for the Wabash County Promise Scholarships is rooted in research evidence examining the potential of early accumulation of educational assets to cultivate identities as college savers and increase educational expectations. This evidence has contributed to a growing trend among scholarship providers to consider ways to deliver awards early enough in students’ educational trajectories to influence not just the affordability of postsecondary education, but also students’ likelihood of enrolling in college and completing postsecondary credentials. One particular iteration of these efforts is the melding of ‘Promise’ programs or other early-commitment scholarships with Children’s Savings Account (CSA) programs that help families accumulate educational assets through incentivizing their own saving and amplifying families’ contributions with programmatic features (Elliott & Levere, 2017). Early-commitment scholarships provide early notification, guarantee, and/or delivery of financial aid to help offset the costs of postsecondary studies or training. The Wabash County Promise Scholarships program is an example of early-commitment financial aid that leverages the potential of both approaches.