Assets and Education


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?

4 responses to “Assets and Education

  1. With a son who will enter college in two years, this topic has moved to front and center in our home. Although we have saved for his tuition, it is not near enough. He is a good student and a competitive runner, so we’re hopeful that some scholarships will be offered. However the money issue totally skews his college planning. I’d love to say “don’t worry, just pick your college that suits your major best and we’ll figure it out” but that’s just not realistic.

    Tuition has dramatically increased while Pell grants and other aid has not. The increase in interest rates on student loans, even with the latest congressional vote, continues the price of college.

    When I went to college in the late 80’s, KU tuition was about $400 a semester. I was fortunate enough to have parents who could pay that so paying for college wasn’t an issue. I was free to enter a large university with a diverse selection of majors and programs. My parents were lower middle class but we still afforded college for both by sister and I.

    As a result, my sister and I were the first two grandchildren to obtain bachelor degrees and later master’s. We shifted from the working class jobs of my parents’ families to white collar jobs: she is the director of nursing at a hospital while I, with my MSW, am a community organizer with a political nonprofit. College made a huge difference in our lives.

    Today, KU costs about $4000 a semester. It’s unbelievable to see those numbers. When I look at the possibility of my son leaving college with thousands of dollars in debt, it saddens me. We will somehow figure out how to pay for his schooling. But I know some will not be able to.

    However he may attend a community college first or need to find a smaller college that offers a running or academic scholarship. His college choices will be limited and it is stressful.

    Of course, this is only a snapshot of a middle class problem with college tuition. We have had the opportunity to save some. It does seem counterintuitive for policy to discourage and in some cases prevent folks to build their savings.

    Thanks for working on this issue and having a discussion on it. I apologize for my lengthy response.

    • Thank you so much for this comment–don’t ever apologize for the thoughtfulness with which you approach so many issues. Your story is replicated all over the country, and is an example of how the ‘American Dream’ of economic mobility is being undercut by our public policies, including the college cost shift. AEDI is hosting a speakers series of poverty, inequality, and economic security, starting on September 11th at noon. I’ll make sure you get the information–we’re bringing Mark Rank in first, and I know you would really appreciate his message.

  2. Wonderful, I’d be interested in learning more about the speakers’ series.

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