OPPORTUNITY FOR IMPACT
Almost 1.6 million children under the age of 18 live in Indiana, comprising nearly one fourth of our state’s population and giving us the 14th largest child population in the nation. We believe the trajectory of a child’s life should be determined not by situational limitations but by his or her potential. That’s why we’re making a Promise to youth in communities around our state: a Promise to support them with the encouragement and means they need so they can achieve their potential and live their dreams through higher educational attainment.
For youth of any socioeconomic status, having a college savings account is a primary indicator in shaping college-bound identity. Leading research in the field of asset-building shows that youth with an account are about seven times more likely to attend college than similar youth who do not have an account.
Even accounts with small balances matter. Low- to moderate-income youth who hold an account designated for education with a balance of between $1 and $499 are four and a half times more likely to graduate from college than similar youth without an account. A dedicated account for educational savings fosters a child’s development of an identity that "I am someone who goes to college" and affirms "adults believe in and are saving for me."
Yet only 11.7% of Indiana youth under the age of 18 have a 529 college savings account and are saving for their future. Given the positive outcomes associated with educational savings, and how it contributes to a child’s identity and likelihood to pursue education beyond high school, the opportunity to make an impact by increasing the number of youth who have savings is enormous.
CREATING COLLEGE-GOING CULTURE
By the year 2020, over 60% of jobs in the U.S. will require post-secondary education in the form of a two- or four-year degree or credential. Currently, Indiana ranks 40th of all states in higher education. As we assess needs in our communities, region, and state, an educated workforce and population is at the top of the list. The Promise addresses barriers to educational attainment, increasing college access through educational savings as a component of building a larger college-going culture.
The Promise is a grassroots, community-driven effort, to address the need for a college-going culture that supports all youth with the means to pursue their dreams beyond high school by engaging families in the process, planting the seeds of hope at an early age, and rallying communities around the issue of educational attainment. The Promise shifts the conversation about post-secondary education from one that takes place in high school to one that begins in kindergarten. We are making a promise that any child can pursue success beyond high school. Through the Promise, youth begin to dream about their future, explore college and careers, and start their educational savings as early as kindergarten, while adults in their community encourage them on the pathway to success.
The family structure is the place where any true expectations of college and its financial reality exist. The Promise streamlines the process to start a college savings account through an online enrollment that takes five minutes to complete, and requires only a computer with an internet connection. In each participating county, public school districts and private schools support integrating savings into the process of signing up for the bus, school lunches, and paying for books, and provide the technology for families to create savings accounts during school registration.
The ease of signing up at school removes some of the biggest barriers for families lack of time to start saving, or putting savings at the bottom of a long list of things to do to help their child be successful. The Promise helps increase awareness of both the benefits of saving and the tax benefits of the 529. At the school events, teachers and school staff can reinforce the message that they believe every child has a bright future and families should be looking forward to the day when their elementary student will head off to college.
The Promise overcomes other barriers families may face, such as lack of funds to establish an account, by waiving the initial deposit that is typically required and securing a sponsor to seed the accounts with $25 to spark future saving. Through the Promise and this intentional enrollment process, over 3,000 families have opened 529 college savings accounts to date.
COLLEGE AND CAREER IDENTITY
In the classroom: Beyond educational savings, the Promise creates excitement for youth about their future. During the month of September, every classroom takes on a college and career discovery focus. Youth participate in teacher-designed activities with age-appropriate objectives about education beyond high school, such as "what do I want to be when I grow up?" Students learn about what college is like, by virtually exploring their teacher’s alma mater or a Q&A with a college student in their classroom. Youth dress up as the profession they would like to pursue, learn vocabulary associated with college, and dream about their futures.
In the community: "Children need to have an entire environment of relationships invested in their healthy development". To create this environment, the Promise helps communities come together to support youth as champions. Champions are adults in the community who affirm a child’s aspirations through verbal encouragement and financial investments. Youth ask their champions to contribute $5.29 to their college savings account. The Promise then leverages community dollars to provide a match for the monies that students raise. Each child who raises $25 from his or her champions receives a community matching gift into a protected match account for higher education expenses.
On the campus: The efforts to build hope both inside and out of the classroom culminate with a "Walk Into My Future" event to celebrate youth on the campus of a local university. Youth visit the campus and explore college life through interactive stations created by faculty and students. After visiting the interactive stations, youth walk around the campus quad to symbolically take steps toward their future. The "Walk Into My Future" event also gives families and community champions a chance to celebrate them taking these steps.
Only a holistic approach to creating college-going culture will increase the number of students achieving a certification or degree beyond high school. Adults must hold high expectations for student success and show their commitment to helping youth achieve their dreams. Students must be academically prepared, financially supported, and have hope for their future.
 Indiana Youth Institute (2013). Data Book
 Elliott and Beverly (2010). The role of savings and wealth in reducing "wilt" between expectations and college attendance. CSD Publication No. 10-04, Center for Social Development, Washington University in St. Louis.
 Elliott, W. (2013). Small-dollar children’s savings accounts and children’s college outcomes. Children and Youth Services Review, 35(3), 572–585.
 College Choice 529 (2014)
 "Building Adult Capabilities to Improve Child Outcomes: A Theory of Change," Frontiers of Innovation (2011). Harvard University