When I first read the basis of this study it sounded like a no-brainer - kids with college savings accounts do better on tests in school than their peers who don't' have money set aside for higher education. Makes sense, right? Because kids whose parents set aside money for their college education are also more likely to have access to resources that would help them with their current education. But what this study actually found was that it was the savings account itself, even in families with no other access to resources, that helped improve a child's development. And that is very interesting stuff.
For the study, researchers from the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis recruited the parents of 2,704 infants who were born in Oklahoma in 2007. Roughly half of the kids were given a college savings account, while the other half were not. The kids in the college savings group were given $1000 in state funds for an Oklahoma 529 account. Further, the parents were encouraged to create their own 529 accounts for the children and were given $100 as an initial deposit to do so.
Researchers found that the children who had college savings account opened for them scored better on measures of social and emotional behavior by age four, compared to those who didn't get an account. In fact, the score difference was similar to that seen when a Head Start program is introduced to a community to prepare preschool aged children for school.
The researchers found that the difference in development was even more pronounced among children from disadvantaged backgrounds, including those with low education, low economic status and who receive welfare.
What's fascinating is that it was the college savings account that made the difference - and how it changed the parent's view of the child. Through interviews with the parents, researchers were able to ascertain that the parents of kids in the college savings group were confident that their kids would use that money to go to college - even if college was not an option for them before. The speculation then is that these parents were more likely to devote whatever time, attention, and resources they had toward this goal once they could see it as more attainable.
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