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Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald announced today the launch of a college savings program that will create a savings account for every child entering kindergarten starting in fall 2013. The program, which will initially serve nearly 15,000 public, private, charter and parochial school students in the county that includes Cleveland, will be the largest such effort of its kind in the nation, and the first college savings account program offered by a county in the State of Ohio.

“With the launch of the Cuyahoga County College Savings Account Program, every child in our area will grow up knowing that college is a real and attainable goal,” said FitzGerald. “This is a critical investment in our children and in the development of a skilled workforce capable of meeting the needs of 21st century Ohio businesses.”

The Cuyahoga County College Savings Account Program addresses a growing need in the Cleveland area and across the country. For the first time, students today are less likely to complete college than their parents; fewer than 1 in 10 low-income students graduate from college by their mid-20s.

The Cuyahoga County initiative, which follows similar efforts in San Francisco, also reflects increasing recognition by local and state governments that even a small amount of savings can have a dramatic impact on long-term expectations, particularly for low-income children who may otherwise grow up believing college is out of reach. Recent research shows that students with savings accounts are four times more likely to attend college than those without, and six times more likely if the savings account is in the student’s name.

“Even a few thousand dollars in a college savings account can give children and their families a transformative sense of possibility and hope for the future,” said Andrea Levere, president of the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), which worked with Cuyahoga County to develop the program.

Levere called the Ohio effort unprecedented in scale. “Cuyahoga County is positioning itself as a national leader in the rapidly growing field of asset building for children,” she said.

The program will kick off in fall 2013 with an initial enrollment of all Cuyahoga County students entering kindergarten. A college savings account for each student will be seeded with a $100 deposit, which can be used for any post-secondary education, including vocational training as well as two and four year colleges. The county is also considering additional deposits at key educational milestones, such as graduation from elementary and middle school. When fully implemented the program is expected to cost $2 million to $3 million annually.

The initiative is comparable to but more expansive than San Francisco’s Kindergarten to College program, which launched in 2010 and has a current enrollment of nearly 8,000 students. That effort provides a $50 deposit in a college savings account to every child entering kindergarten in a public school in the city or county of San Francisco. The Cuyahoga County program, by contrast, will cover all kindergartners, not just those in public schools, and will be seeded with the higher $100 deposit.

“We believe that this level of investment sends an important message to families about the county’s supportive role in kick starting a child’s college education,” said FitzGerald. “In turn, we hope to foster early awareness of the need to save for college and engage parents in behaviors that will increase expectations of their children’s school success.”

To further encourage good saving habits, the county is considering implementing a school-based financial education program to ensure that every student learns about the importance of saving and managing money in the context of their college account.

Article Courtesy of WOIO 19 Action News