Panel Paper: Save Steady; Dream Huge: Implementation Challenges and Results from the San Francisco Kindergarten to College Program

Saturday, November 8, 2014 : 10:55 AM
Jemez (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Josť Cisneros, City and County of San Francisco
For over 13,000 San Francisco school children, the dream of college is one step closer to reality. In 2011, San Francisco launched Kindergarten to College (K2C) - the first publicly funded, universal children’s college savings account program in the United States. Under the program, every child entering kindergarten in the City’s public schools is automatically given a college savings account at Citibank containing a $50 deposit from the City and County of San Francisco. Children enrolled in the National Student Lunch Program receive an additional $50 deposit.  Enrollment is automatic and “opt-in”. Kindergarten to College is now available at all 74 San Francisco public elementary schools and approximately 4,500 students are enrolled each year.

Early results from K2C are promising. Over 1550 participants have contributed their own funds to their accounts, representing a 12% participation rate district wide. Some schools, however, have participation rates above 20% while other struggle to engage more than 5% of parents in college savings. Regardless, family participation in K2C is significantly higher than participation nationwide in 529 accounts (3%). The majority (55%) of K2C savers are free and reduced lunch eligible.

The K2C program is an important marker in the pursuit of universal children’s savings accounts (CSA) in the United States. By building on years of research  and pilots, the San Francisco program is the first to include all six recommended components for a successful CSA program – it is automatically opened, universally available, allows families to make contributions through a variety of methods, includes savings matches and incentives, ties to financial education and, perhaps most critically, is largely publicly funded. We believe the K2C model holds great promise for proving the importance of linking asset building strategies to educational success. However, if San Francisco’s K2C program is indeed to be a test case for a national CSA program it will mean a continued investment of intellectual capital, political will and financial resources.

Program Administrators from the San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment encountered many challenges in the creation and day-today management of K2C. Not least of these challenges is the lack of financial products and services designed to support CSA programs designed around the custodial model. The use of matches and incentives to encourage family savings presents another opportunity to engage families that is currently under researched. Perhaps most pressing, is the issue of bringing these programs to scale across the country by providing support for emerging models and technical assistance.

Full Paper: