San Francisco’s Kindergarten to College (K2C) program is the first universal and automatic children’s college savings program in the country. The idea behind K2C is simple: help families save earlier and to save more for post-secondary education by removing barriers and providing incentives. City leaders were motivated by research findings from the University of Kansas that found that students with college savings — even of less than $500 — are three times more likely to enroll in college and four times more likely to graduate than those without.
Spearheaded by the San Francisco Treasurer’s Office of Financial Empowerment in partnership with the Mayor’s Office and the San Francisco Unified School District, K2C began as a two-year pilot program in 2011. Beginning in the fall of 2012, every child entering kindergarten in the city’s public schools automatically receives a college savings account containing $50. Children in the National Student Lunch Program receive an additional $50 deposit. K2C encourages families to save by matching the savings of families with a $100 match for the first $100 of savings and a $100 bonus for six months of consistent savings. In less than four years, families enrolled in K2C saved over $1,000,000 in almost 18,000 accounts. Half of K2C savers are in the National School Lunch program.
Kindergarten to College has three primary goals: increase the likelihood of college attendance; reduce financial exclusion of low-income and minority families from mainstream financial products that build wealth; and leverage private investment in San Francisco families for savings matches, which create behavioral incentives and help families earn money for college at significantly higher rates than possible on their own.
While built on prior demonstrations of child savings programs launched by nonprofits, such as the CFED SEED program, K2C is the first child savings program in the United States to be publicly funded and to pioneer its automatic, universal, and scalable framework. Program staff also recognized that, historically, programs of this type had a disincentive to participation by low-income families, who may see themselves become ineligible for public benefits when these accounts were included in asset test limits. To circumvent this issue, K2C worked with private banks to create a unique type of account for these savings, held in trust by the city, where families could save without worry.
Kindergarten to College receives weekly calls and inquiries from communities across the country looking to build similar programs. Children’s savings account programs are now springing up in small towns and major metropolitan areas across the country.