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Milwaukee Program Seeks To Create College Savings Accounts For MPS Students

There's a growing movement in the U.S. that seeks to create college savings accounts for students.

Low-income students in Milwaukee are less likely to graduate from high school and go onto college than their wealthier counterparts. A new program launched this school year by the city of Milwaukee hopes to bridge that gap.

Fund My Future Milwaukee is part of a growing movement around the nation, which seeks to create college savings accounts for students. Sharon Robinson, the director of Milwaukee’s Department of Administration and one of the driving forces behind this initiative, says this children’s saving account emerged from the city’s “Growing Prosperity” plan, which was adopted by the Common Council in 2014.

“It’s a plan that really is community-centric,” she explains. “And it puts people first, as well as the need to connect residents to jobs and opportunity in the city.”

Initially, the program will launch at select Milwaukee Public Schools, according to Ashleigh Edgerson, manager of Fund My Future Milwaukee.

“All K-5 kindergartners will be seated with $25, in the event that their parents don’t decide to opt out of the program. However, we will then take 15 schools, from different sectors, and work with them closely through an incentive program and so that’ll give those particular K-5 kindergartners the opportunity to receive additional funds into their accounts,” she explains.

The initiative aims to increase to about 65 schools in its second year and serve all students with the incentive program in its third year, says Robinson.

“And so basically, they’ll get bonus rewards or additional funds for achieving behavioral milestones like good attendance, behaving well in school, taking part in our events and activities,” she says.

Robinson points out that Milwaukee has joined a growing CSA movement of a model that has been used in other cities.

“There are actually 54 programs operating in 32 states, serving about 400,000 students," she notes. "So, we have been a part of this movement, and we’re attached to national networks, regional networks. And we’re very, very happy that we’re able to benefit from the experience of others."

Early savings help low-income students reach success in college, according to a report from the University of Kansas and Assets & Education Initiative. The report also shows that a college savings of less than $500 boost chances of college entry and success for low and moderate-income students.

At the end of the K-12 tenure of MPS students, Robinson expects a student to have, at minimum, between $750-1000. But that could go up if the program raises more money.

“We’re hoping that the community will really get behind us and kick in money because, clearly, it’s a funding issue. The more funding we have, the more chance we have to make these accounts really, really robust,” she says.

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Joy Powers joined WUWM January 2016 as a producer for Lake Effect. Before then, she was a director and producer for Afternoon Shift, on WBEZ-fm Chicago Public Radio.
Lauren Sigfusson
Lauren became WUWM's digital producer in July 2018.