Looking for our new site?

The Ladder

A Blog from New America's Asset Building Program

Summarizing the Research: Children's Savings Intervention for Raising College Attendance

Published:  September 21, 2011
Publication Image
Photo courtesy of G. Tsang from Flickr Creative Commons

A growing number of research studies investigate the association between children's savings and their educational outcomes, findings which suggest providing children with savings accounts at an early age may be a way to improve their educational outcomes. A recent press release summarizes these research studies, many of which have been conducted by researchers at the University of Kansas and the Center for Social Development. Research also suggests children’s college-bound identities—whether or not they expect to graduate from college—are also associated with children’s educational outcomes. Along these lines, it may be useful to know whether interventions that combine savings plus college-bound identity are best for improving college attendance. A new study has recently been released on the Center for Social Development's website that addresses this very question. This post summarizes findings from William Elliott and colleagues’ paper, Toward a Children's Savings and College-Bound Identity Intervention for Raising College Attendance Rates. Results are forthcoming in the journal Sociology Mind

Study Design

Researchers used a longitudinal, nationally representative data set , the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), to examine the best combination of savings accounts and college-bound identities measured in childhood for improving college attendance as young adults. To do this, they created four categories: (1) No savings and uncertain they will graduate from college, (2) Savings only, (3) Certain they will graduate from college only, and (4) Savings and certain they will graduate from college. Researchers hypothesized that having savings combined with certainty in graduating from college would produce the best results for college attendance. This is similar, for instance, to testing the relationship between the number of hours students study for a test and the scores on their test—with every additional hour spent studying, students' scores likely increase. The focus here, however, is on savings, college-bound identity, and college attendance. This approach provided researchers with some indication of the 'dosage' of savings plus college-bound identity needed to improve college attendance. The outcome measured in this study was whether or not young adults approximately ages 17 to 23 in 2007 had ever attended a four-year college. Researchers controlled for a variety of factors, some of which included household income and net worth, head of household's education level and marital status, parents' college expectations for their child, children's race, age, academic achievement, and public/private school attendance.

What Researchers Found

Researchers created four categories: (1) No savings and uncertain they will graduate from college, (2) Savings only, (3) Certain they will graduate from college only, and (4) Savings and certain they will graduate from college.

They found that the first three categories (1) no savings and uncertain they will graduate from college, (2) savings only, and (3) certain they will graduate from college only, were not significantly related to college attendance. The fourth category, (4) savings and certain they will graduate from college, was significantly related to college attendance.

In addition, head of household's education level, household net worth, parents' college expectations for their child, and children's academic achievement and self-efficacy were significantly related to college attendance.

What Does this Mean?

With each additional study, researchers are coming closer to understanding the relationship between children's savings, their college-bound identity, and educational outcomes. Based on these findings, children with a combination of college-bound identities and savings accounts are more likely to attend college than their counterparts without savings and/or college-bound identities. This means that interventions may want to consider simultaneously promoting savings and building college-bound identities for the best college attendance outcomes. 

Things to Keep in Mind

Findings suggest interventions that improve college-bound identities combined with savings may be most effective for improving college attendance. As always, continued research is needed to best understand the relationships between savings, college-bound identities, and college attendance. And findings should be considered in light of a few caveats. Researchers used rigorous statistical methods—a propensity score weighting approach—that allowed them to measure dosage of savings plus college-bound identities. This approach attempts to replicate random assignment, but does so only by using the variables measured in the study. It could be that children differed in important ways on variables excluded from this study, meaning that it could be these differences on excluded variables and not savings or college-bound identities that improved college attendance. This study was not a randomized controlled trial and results should be interpreted with this in mind. Also, children's self-efficacy was negatively related to their college attendance, meaning that children with higher scores on self-efficacy were significantly less likely to attend college. Please read the full research paper for more details on this unexpected, negative relationship between self-efficacy and college attendance and the researchers' explanations.

Join the Conversation

Please log in below through Disqus, Twitter or Facebook to participate in the conversation. Your email address, which is required for a Disqus account, will not be publicly displayed. If you sign in with Twitter or Facebook, you have the option of publishing your comments in those streams as well.

Related Programs