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The Issue


Low and middle income families need tools to access the college opportunity—from aspiration building that starts early to savings plans, scholarships, and college completion support.

A thriving economy—with plenty of jobs and secure retirement—requires vocational, two, and four year college graduates ready to work. Families save for college, despite financial barriers, if it’s relevant to their lives, and if they can access the right incentives and tools. The process must start early, with savings vehicles that reinforce a belief that children are, indeed, college bound.

Beyond savings, families need access to scholarships, “Promise” programs, and support for college completion. Less debt can be a game-changer for a recent grad. Over three-quarters of college graduates without loans have a positive net worth by age 26, compared to one-third of graduates with loans. AFN gathers strategies that help secure the college opportunity for all, then shares them with our members.

Children’s Saving Accounts—an effective tool to create future orientation and college aspirations for every child

AFN’s Children’s Saving Accounts: A Primer is the perfect launching off point for learning about this impactful asset-building tool.

Why It’s Important

Funder investments that focus on supporting college completion for a broader array of students will increase opportunity and equity.

Increased college enrollment rates

Higher college graduation rates

More college graduates among low income children and children of color

Less debt for college graduates

More college graduates with a positive net worth

More workers trained with relevant skills and ready to succeed in the future workforce

Grantmaking Strategies

Over the life course, having a college education matters more than ever. That’s why more grantmakers are finding ways to support budding aspirations and boost the feasibility of post-secondary vocational, two, and four year college graduation.

Grantmakers are increasingly promoting Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) in their giving. CSAs, established early in life, provide the vehicle and incentives to help families and communities build a post-secondary identity that is future oriented and allows the child and community to save, to plan to attend college, and to develop additional resources to address education costs.

CSAs enjoy bipartisan support because they ensure equitable access to college savings for all children and their families. Indeed, some community foundations are using CSAs as a vehicle for early distribution of scholarship funds. The full effects of CSA are still being studied but the research is promising and programs are being supported in rural and urban areas across the country. Grantmakers who invest in Promise challenges, scholarships, college prep and completion support, and debt management strategies are exploring the value of linking these strategies to CSA efforts as well.

Equity goals, in particular, depend on children aspiring to, entering, and completing college with manageable debt. But as more of the burden of paying for college has shifted to individuals and families, student debt is rising. In 2013, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported student loan debt was the only form of consumer debt that had grown since the peak of consumer debt in 2008. Grantmakers are paying attention to debt and the economic instability it contributes to, even for those with “good” jobs. Younger workers with high student loan debt may delay buying their first home. The debt can lead to poor credit ratings due to late payments. If not addressed, this debt burden may exacerbate gender and racial wealth gaps instead of helping to address it.

Grantmaking strategies that address these hurdles help to improve economic stability for future generations. Funder investments that focus on supporting college completion for a broader array of students will increase opportunity and equity. Managing the financial burden of student debt will help to ensure better economic stability and prosperity for future generations.

CONTACT: Kristin Rennels,

“CSAs, particularly when implemented as a large scale program across an entire school district or city, are game-changing for families. They have the potential to help break intergenerational cycles of poverty and give young people the opportunity to pursue higher education without being saddled with debt.”

Elena Chávez Quezada | The San Francisco Foundation