Tag Archives: higher education

Assets, Education, and the American Dream

Earlier this week, I wrote about my work at the Assets and Education Initiative, and what we’re trying to do to sort of upend the conversation about financial aid and higher education and student debt, in pursuit of an education system–and a way of financing it–capable of delivering far more equitable outcomes for those disadvantaged today.

Today, I want to share some of the resources and tools we’ve developed as part of this.

I know that most of my readers are touched in some way by our higher education system–indeed, I would argue that we all are, at least indirectly, given that education is so powerful in shaping economic opportunities and structures–as students or recent graduates, faculty members or advocates.

We are certainly not alone in raising these questions, but I am proud of the role that we’re playing, and I am excited to more explicitly share this work with you, in a sort of ‘full circle’ way.

I would welcome your comments and questions. One of the most fun things about working in an evolving field is the ability to be pretty nimble and responsive, like when a reporter’s question about the level of savings that it would really take for a Children’s Savings Account to make a difference for a student’s likelihood of going to college led to a new line of research that revealed, somewhat startlingly, significant improvements in educational outcomes just from opening a savings account, and sizable differences for those students with about $500 saved.

Your question might just spark the next line of inquiry; regardless, these are conversations we must have.

Our education system isn’t just about who we are today, or what students encounter upon enrollment.

It’s about who we will become and the stories we tell ourselves about what is possible in this country.

It is an honor to be part of that.

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Assets and Education

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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?