During what seemed like a brief break from the mostly-vacation that was my July, I was privileged to participate in the release of the biannual report on the Assets and Education field, with my colleagues from the Assets and Education Initiative at KU.
This report occupied huge swaths of my time last winter, and it was a relief and a joy to get it out the door, but especially to experience the reaction of policymakers, educators, advocates, and practitioners, all of whom are coming to a realization that, when it comes to financial aid, we really may not be getting our money’s worth with our over-reliance on student borrowing.
One of the major purposes of the report is to explain the idea of institutional facilitation–the main way in which assets can change students’ educational trajectories, even long before they have saved enough money to finance all of their college educations.
By sending children a powerful message that supportive institutions will augment their own capabilities, and by reinforcing pro-education ideals in ways that shape expectations and, subsequently, behavior, saving even $500 can dramatically increase the likelihood of positive educational outcomes for a disadvantaged child. In contrast, the prospect of borrowing thousands of dollars to go to school can actually discourage low-income children from enrolling, eroding the power of education as an equalizing force in U.S. society, since college completion now largely reflects economic divides.
My piece of the report rollout centered on the policy implications, particularly looking at what it would mean to reorient financial aid to an asset-based model. How would we need to change welfare policy, so that low-income households are not discouraged from saving? How can we best encourage savings among those who most need transformational assets? How can we take asset-based financial aid to scale, and what role makes sense for student loans, in the interim?
I’ve been very pleased with the debate, so far, and the traction around translating the research into policy implications. And, now that I’m back from vacation and getting back into the swing of work, I’d love to continue the conversation here.
On a personal level, how has financial aid–loans, perhaps, or being independent of debt–affected your post-college outcomes?
What do you see as the connections between financial aid and the promise of the American Dream, if, indeed, our public policy choices are constraining access to higher education along lines of race and class?
What are your hopes for public policy in this arena? How can we translate the lessons of asset-based welfare to child savings?
What are the risks in this type of policy shift?
What difference can assets make, and what questions do we need to be asking ourselves to realize this potential?