Expanding CSAs through Regional Collaboration

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of energy around Children’s Savings Account (CSA) programs across the country, but the New England region has been particularly active. Three New England states – Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut – now have statewide CSA programs in place, and both Boston and the Massachusetts State Treasurer’s Office launched pilot programs last year. A new study from Brandeis University's Institute on Assets and Social Policy (IASP), based on surveys and interviews with key stakeholders in the region, explores the reasons for this concentration of CSA activity and discusses how to replicate it in other places.

In explaining the expansion of CSA programs across New England, IASP identifies several key factors:

  • A backbone organization facilitating collaboration — In 2014, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston created the New England CSA Consortium. Having this committed, stable facilitator has been a major catalyst for CSA activity in the region.
  • “Seeds” or knowledge about CSAs shared regionally — Practitioners and policymakers in the region learned from and built on one another’s efforts. As one of IASP’s interviewee said, “I don’t think that we would have gotten as far as we have if we hadn’t been in touch with other people who were pushing similar programs regionally…”
  • Climate of open communication — Practitioners felt comfortable frankly discussing challenges and mistakes with regional partners. One of IASP’s interviewees said, "…[B]eing able to bounce ideas off other people and have them say to me, ‘We tried it, and it fell flat on its face,' or 'Yes, try this, it's a much better way.' That is totally invaluable to me."
  • Strong champions — Both public sector leaders, such as governors and treasurers, and private sector leaders, such as 529 plan managers, championed CSA efforts across the region.
  • Capitalizing on policy openings — CSA supporters were able to recognize and take advantage of multiple factors that came together at once to create windows for change. For example, just as the Rhode Island Treasurer’s Office was developing its idea to create a check box on the birth certificate form to enroll in Collegeboundbaby, the state’s Health Department was updating the birth certificate form.

The key question this study raises is — can the success of the New England CSA Consortium be replicated elsewhere in the country? On one hand, New England has unique features, including compact geography and strong regional support for higher education, that make it easier to collaborate and garner support for CSAs. Nonetheless, we can apply elements of the New England model elsewhere. Other regions can establish collaborative groups that foster open and honest communication (even if they need to mainly meet virtually), foster and support CSA champions, and look for ways to create and capitalize on policy openings.

The newly-launched Midwest CSA Consortium, which will bring together practitioners and policymakers from current and aspiring CSA programs across several Midwestern states, was inspired by the New England Consortium. We are eager to see how a regional collaboration will work in a geographically expansive area with more political and demographic diversity.

Meanwhile, at Prosperity Now, we are continuing our role in disseminating best practices and connecting practitioners at a national level. As IASP points out, CSA practitioners also benefit from connecting with programs across the country that may be more similar to their own model or at a similar stage of development than other regional programs. 

With efforts to expand CSA programs bubbling up from all different directions—locally, regionally and nationally—it’s clear that wind is at the back of the CSA movement.

If you’d like to receive updates on CSA efforts across the country, join the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future at www.savingsforkids.org

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