Abstract: `You're Marketable...and You're Flexible`: How Low-Income Parents with Child Saving Accounts Conceptualize the Role of Postsecondary Education in Securing Their Children's Future (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

444P `You're Marketable...and You're Flexible`: How Low-Income Parents with Child Saving Accounts Conceptualize the Role of Postsecondary Education in Securing Their Children's Future

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Lolita Moss, Doctoral Student, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Trina Shanks, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Background and Purpose: Child savings account (CSA) programs are a recent intervention that have been implemented nationwide with the aim of improving the long-term well-being of families through asset and wealth-building (Goldberg, 2005; Williams Shanks et al., 2010). The Saving for Education, Entrepreneurship, and Downpayment (SEED) initiative implemented CSAs in 12 sites across the country beginning in 2003. This study uses qualitative data from a ten-year follow up of the Michigan SEED Impact Assessment Study (MI-SEED), a longitudinal, quasi-experimental study, to ask: what are parents’ notions of success for their children? How does postsecondary education fit into that vision?

Methods: The MI-SEED program was designed as a longitudinal quasi-experimental comparison of seven “treatment” and seven “control” Head Start centers in a low-income city in Michigan. 500 families with children enrolled at the seven treatment centers were offered a CSA with an initial $800 deposit, matched by a $200 state deposit, with a 1:1 match of up to $1200. This study uses data from a 2014-2015 mixed-method study that followed up with a subset of treatment and control families. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 50 households where we discussed the parents household finances, perceptions of MI-SEED, and notions of success for their children. We also obtained updated aggregate data on all SEED 529 accounts from TIAA (n = 496). Interviews were transcribed verbatim and coded thematically by three independent coders. Seven themes emerged; our analysis focused on what parents articulated about the meaning of education for their children’s futures.

Results: Our data reflected three primary sub-themes that emerged through analysis of the qualitative data: first, college is the key to multiple benefits. The participants enumerated multiple positive outcomes their children could expect to see after completing college, chief among them, tangible benefits such as financial stability from a well-paying job, and intangible benefits such as increased freedom of choice more generally. Second, college is inoculative of numerous social ills, particularly low-status jobs and poverty. Finally, parents shared that they and other and family members explicitly encourage children to go to college and accordingly, parents believe that their child will attend college.

Conclusions & Implications: These findings represent data from one of the earliest and longest-running CSA research programs in the United States. Results suggest that many SEED parents are aware that high-status jobs often require a college degree, and the cost of foregoing higher education could directly affect the ability to move out of poverty. This sample of parents articulated college degree attainment as the key to avoiding instability that many experienced firsthand. Overall, results suggest that postsecondary education is viewed as a wealth and status-building strategy among low-income parents whose children have CSA accounts. Our findings add to a limited body of research that examines how low-income parents’ academic expectations influence their children’s achievement. Social workers and policymakers can leverage such information to advocate for use of wealth-building instruments such as CSAs as well as other innovations that directly assist low-income families with the high cost of postsecondary education.