ALC Provides Launchpad for Latest CSA Findings and Developments

The 2016 Assets Learning Conference provided a multitude of opportunities for CSA leaders to connect, share best practices and generate new ideas for moving the field forward. Prosperity Now hosted both a CSA pre-conference September 27, which brought together more than 50 experienced CSA practitioners, advocates, funders and policy champions, along with organizing a set of workshop sessions on CSAs at the conference itself.

Benita Melton from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation kicked off the pre-conference session by noting the number and diversity of programs represented in the room, reflecting the growth and momentum in the field. At the same time, she pointed out that work remains in developing an account platform to help open accounts, improving parental engagement and improving data tracking data of educational outcomes—all of which were discussed throughout the day.

Following a presentation on interim outcome metrics, Frank DeGiovanni, formerly with the Ford Foundation, and William Elliott, with the Center on Assets, Education, and Inclusion, commented that the field has made the evidence-based case that CSAs work by helping families save, and now programs should focus on improvements and understanding what factors help children do better.

The pre-conference session also featured a Shark Tank-inspired session that included three "pitches" from providers of new technology solutions to make provision of CSAs more accessible and efficient. Megan McTiernan of EARN showcased a new online platform that connects directly to savers' individual bank accounts and rewards them based on their saving activity. As part of the demos, Utah Educational Savings Plan and VistaShare's Outcome Tracker also presented their products, followed by probing questions from the expert panel and audience.

In addition to the robust discussions during the pre-conference, the Assets Learning Conference highlighted CSAs in a variety of ways. At the opening plenary, Prosperity Now's President Andrea Levere challenged the audience to expand CSAs from 29 states to all 50 states. She also urged attendees to join the Campaign for Every Kid's Future, which works to connect 1.4 million kids to CSAs by 2020. Finally, four workshop sessions at the 2016 ALC focused specifically on children's savings, providing attendees with tools to design and launch CSA programs, the latest research on CSAs and strategies for how to pitch their programs to different types of funders and elected officials.

One of the highlights of the conference was a session on CSA research. At the session, Trina Shanks of the University of Michigan's School of Social Work reported on recent findings from a quasi-experimental study of CSAs. The so-called Michigan SEED site, which opened CSAs for kids in Head Start more than a decade ago, was part of the multi-year SEED Initiative. Findings from recent interviews with participants emphasized youth voices about CSAs gathered through qualitative data. This series of interviews revealed that financial barriers remain a challenge in the lives of the CSA savers and that communication between the parents and children about the value of CSAs is critical to increasing college aspirations. In addition, research on Kindergarten to College students, presented by William Elliott, found that more disadvantaged students – students in schools with a high percentage of the population on free or reduced lunch – saved at the highest rates, challenging conventional notions about saving.

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Overall, the insights and new findings on CSAs shared at the 2016 Assets Learning Conference and pre-conference highlighted the incredible progress across the country over the past several years to expand CSAs and increase the effectiveness of programs.

If you would like to see speaker presentations and handouts from the CSA workshops and concurrent sessions, visit the Assets Learning Conference website.

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