I have very mixed feelings about the news that states are creating new college savings accounts for low-income students. Low-income students are required to have saved some money of their own before being eligible for other forms of financial aid and to attend financial literacy workshops. A spokeswoman explains that her program “empowers students to build lifelong assets such as consistent savings behavior”.
Part of my unease is that the article I’m reading features a program in Arizona, where state support for higher ed has been slashed in recent years. Is the requirement of a savings account that would barely cover textbooks for a semester part of diverting public attention away from the legislature’s gutting support for public universities?
I see nothing in the talk about how these programs about the severe rates of unemployment among low-income teenagers. Do the creators of these programs imagine their own high school years, when students weren’t competing against laid-off professionals for minimum wage jobs and just blew their paychecks on gas for their cars?
I see nothing here about what we already know about low-income students: That parents sometimes simply refuse to fill out financial aid forms, let alone set aside savings for children who cannot find work on their own.
But most of all, I’m very uneasy with the idea that only low-income students’ understanding of money needs to be fixed as a condition of going to college. Exactly how is it that 20 year olds who’ve never been expected to work but instead pay for beer, clothes, and spring break trips from generous deposits that magically appear in their accounts are learning “to build lifelong assets”?
If we’re concerned about financial literacy among young people, why not require all students to work on campus to level playing fields and to teach the dignity of work to *all* students, as Berea College has done for decades?
We know that l0w-income students struggle to imagine how they’ll afford college.
We have absolutely no evidence that that’s because they don’t know how to save money.
So, what if we stayed focused on fixing state funding for college instead of fixing low-income kids?