N.Y. program helps Black children save for college

The NYC Kids RISE Save for College Program has expanded and provided educational savings accounts to more than 145,000 students.

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An educational savings program has boosted the college dreams of young students in a mostly Black school district in New York City.

Last December, the NYC Kids RISE Save for College Program opened college savings plans for 1,200 students in East Flatbush and Canarsie in Brooklyn School District 18, where Black students are 86% of the student population.

The program helps families understand the importance of savings and how putting aside a little money at a time can make a difference, build wealth and lead to financial independence. It relies on families to continue savings through avenues that include community partnerships. 

“New York City Public School students will graduate with a financial asset that will help contribute to their ability for college and career training after high school,” Nicole Perry, chief platform officer of the NYC Kids RISE Save for College Program, told theGrio. She called the program an “asset-building opportunity” that helps children and their families believe in the dream of attending college and furthering their careers.

NYC Kids RISE received $1.2 million in grants from the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Greenwood Initiative and the Brooklyn Community Foundation to fund the NY 529 Direct Plan, or college savings program. With the money, the RISE program placed $1,000 in each of the 1,200 accounts.

The scholarships for the Brooklyn students are the latest in an effort by RISE to help ensure all students in the city get a head start in paying for college. NYC Kids RISE began in 2017 with a pilot project in the Queens borough and has since opened NY 529 accounts starting with $100 each for more than 145,000 kindergarten and first-grade students in public and some charter schools across the city. All students automatically receive an account unless parents opt out. 

Even after growing with interest, $1,000 isn’t enough to pay for post-high school education. That’s why NYC Kids RISE sees local communities as an important part of its program.

“We’re working with community leaders, community-based organizations, various institutions, and communities people engage with,” Perry said. For example, she said that one tenant association leader raised money for students who lived in the housing development. The funds went into the 529 accounts.

“The idea is to start early and even start small (since) every bit counts,” Perry said. “That’s the message to get across.”

School officials and first graders from East Flatbush and Canarsie celebrate a $1.2 million investment through the Save for College Program into 1,200 first graders’ accounts. Also present on Dec. 13, 2022, were First Deputy Mayor Sheena Wright, Mayor’s Office of Equity Commissioner Sideya Sherman, local elected officials and representatives from NYC Kids RISE, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Greenwood Initiative, Brooklyn Community Foundation and the Gray Foundation. (Photo credit: Jamon Davis for NYC Kids RISE)

Jasmine Hartley’s daughter attends elementary school in Canarsie. The first grader now has $1,100 in her account, her mother said.

“It just gives children the extra boost they need to know they can follow their dreams, continue their education and do whatever they want in life,” Hartley said.

Though she’s very young, Hartley said her daughter is excited about college. “She has the opportunity to know that she can go to college. A lot of us grow up without that type of privilege.”

Students can only use the funds for their post-high school education. If they decide not to attend college or a vocational school, the funds revert back to the program.

While parents can’t add personal funds to the RISE accounts, RISE encourages them to open their own parallel education accounts, an excellent idea because college costs will only increase substantially.

Vanguard’s College Cost Projector estimates what college will cost in the future. For example, the projector says Hunter College, part of New York’s City University system, currently costs just under $7,000 a year in tuition and fees only, or an estimated $27,720 over the traditional four-year college career. 

In 12 years, when most kindergarteners and first graders would be ready to go into college, the yearly ($12,445) and four-year costs ($53,641) will have nearly doubled. 

That’s a daunting financial challenge for Black families whose median net worth of $17,100 is less than that of white families ($171,000) by a factor of 10, according to the Brookings Institute.

But there’s hope.

Research shows that a child with a college savings account of just $1 to $500 is three times more likely to go to college and more than four times more likely to graduate than a child without an account, NYC Kids RISE noted in its press release.

Hartley didn’t attend college and opted to open her own business. By going to college, her daughter can have experiences she never did.

“I attended the school my daughter is in when I was in elementary school,” Hartley said. ”So, when I was in that school, we didn’t have many opportunities like this. We didn’t have a program that allowed us to begin to save for our future education. Having my child in there, knowing that she has this stepping stone for when she’s older, to do whatever she wants, it’s a great opportunity.”