What are the 'ripple effects' from CSAs?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

We are excited about our research with Kindergarten-to-College in San Francisco, honored to be part of the important analysis related to the effects of that CSA intervention, and hopeful about how the findings might inform the CSA field. One of the most intriguing--although, as of yet, still evolving--areas of this investigation relates to community effects of CSAs. Because San Francisco is providing a Children's Savings Account to every kindergartner in the school district, a sort of 'critical mass' is developing, that we haven't really seen in other CSA programs to date. This suggests that there might be some yet-unexamined ways in which CSAs touch community members, even those not directly holding an account, through the creation of a college-going culture, and changes in norms and patterns of financial behavior and decisions.

Because this is relatively new territory, and because K2C is still relatively young, as an intervention, we are still in the process of discerning how to best gauge these effects, what research in other fields has to say about community norms and how they change, and what we can realistically expect to see at this point in the lifecycle of this CSA.

At the same time, we know that savings performance, as a measure of engagement in the CSA intervention, varies by school, which suggests that there might also be some community effects working in the opposite direction, too, with families' experiences with the Children's Savings Account initiative mediated through the lens of their particular community identity, and the opportunities and constraints they face.

San Francisco is certainly not the only place where these community effects may be felt. Nevada is incorporating efforts to build 'college-bound cultures' within schools into its statewide CSA, administered through the state 529 plan. Promise Indiana has explicit and often-intensive community-building measures as part of its design. States like Maine are interested in looking at geographic patterns in their CSA participation, as part of an effort to discern community effects and their influence on outcomes. But we think that K2C may have something very interesting to contribute to this emerging dimension of CSA research. As we continue to think about the best measures by which to note these effects, we're also considering the limits to these dynamics, how community contexts can inhibit CSA development, and what we should do to try to isolate the effects of the CSA, specifically, on the larger community conversation about education, equity, and future opportunity.

What do you think? Where are you looking, to see how CSAs are changing your community? What effects would you hope for, on the community level, from a CSA intervention? How would documenting and measuring these effects change the calculus about why CSAs make sense as a community investment? How would you want to see that message communicated?

Stay tuned, as we dig into what lessons K2C might hold.

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