Aspen's Ascend Fund: Investing in Two-Generation Solutions
By Melanie Hudson, Guest Contributor on 07/08/2013 @ 10:00 AM
As a new model of social innovation and cross-sector collaboration, Ascend at the Aspen Institute is requesting Letters of Inquiry (LOIs) for the $1 million Aspen Institute Ascend Fund. The objective of the Aspen Institute Ascend Fund is to invest in solutions that tap the creativity, knowledge, and assets of all sectors of our society to create a cycle of opportunity for children and their parents.
Letter of Inquiry (LOI) Guidelines - Deadline: August 19, 2013, 5:00 pm EDT
Download the two-page overview here.
Participate in an Informational Webinar
Ascend at the Aspen Institute is hosting two webinars about the Ascend Fund on June 26 and July 22. Sign up here.
We are not a foundation, so why invest $1 million?
At Ascend at the Aspen Institute, we do not believe that any one organization or any one issue will create a legacy of economic security and educational success for all American families. We believe in co-creating solutions and dynamic collaborations with leaders from all sectors of society. We seek partners who are passionate, strategic, and relentless in the quest to build a cycle of intergenerational opportunity – and who are specifically interested in the power and potential of a two-generation approach. We seek collaborators who are energized by action, results, and learning. We welcome LOIs from efforts that connect organizations across issues, disciplines, strategies, and sectors.
What results do we hope to achieve?
We are focused on results in the categories of innovation, influence, and impact, as defined below.
Innovation: The development of a new policy or practice or the improvement of an existing policy or practice with the goal of producing better outcomes for both children and parents.
Influence: Increased engagement and education of policy leaders and influencers who have the capacity to make changes in practices, policies, or funding that allow for the implementation or expansion of two-generation approaches.
Impact: The effect that programs and policies have on educational, economic, and/or social capital outcomes for both children and parents.
To be eligible for Aspen Institute Ascend Fund grants, applicant organizations must be:
- Working to implement or expand two-generation approaches
- Focused on one or more key components of two-generation approaches, including education, economic supports, social capital, or health
- Focused on or highlight cross-sector or cross-issue collaborations (e.g., a direct service organization partnering with a research institution or a policy advocacy organization; an early childhood program partnering with a community college or workforce development program; a nonprofit organization collaborating with a private sector business) that lead to improved and aligned policies, practices, and/or resources to produce better outcomes for children and parents
- Committed to participating in and contributing to the Ascend Network
- Committed to documenting and sharing results, learning, and tools with the field
- Focused on both children and parents with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level
- A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization (Note: Public and for-profit entities are encouraged to identify 501(c) nonprofit partners with whom to submit LOIs.)
- Governed by a board of directors
- Located within the United States
Questions about the Aspen Institute Ascend Fund? Please email us at email@example.com.
15 Innovations for Municipal Leaders
By Sean Luechtefeld on 07/05/2013 @ 01:00 PM
Last month, NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service released Innovation and the City, an in-depth exploration of 15 municipal-level innovations to help city residents live better. From London to San Francisco and places in between, cities everywhere are doing great work to improve the lives of their citizens. The innovations documented by NYUWagner include:
- Boston & Chicago’s Updating 311
- San Francisco’s Kindergarten to College (K2C)
- Chicago’s Innovation Loan Fund
- Denver’s Peak Academy
- London’s Project Oracle
- London’s Spacehive
- San Francisco’s Zero Waste
- Philadelphia, Providence & Chicago’s Digital Badging
- Chicago’s Budget Savings Commission
- Seattle & San Francisco’s Open Data
- Oakland’s City ID Prepaid Mastercard
- Seattle & Santa Cruz’s Accessory Dwelling Units and Basement Conversions
- Michigan’s Prize-Linked Savings (PLS)*
- Los Angeles & Chicago’s Immigrant Export Initiative
- San Francisco’s Commuter Tax Benefit
Two of these innovations—numbers 2 and 13 above—identify asset-building innovations that have the potential to serve millions of low- and moderate-income families. San Francisco’s K2C program, for example, is a pioneer of the Children’s Savings Account movement and is working to create a college-going culture among families with children who face rising tuition costs against already-tight family budgets. Further, K2C’s visibility has helped pique interest around other initiatives, such as CFED’s very own 1:1 Fund.
Likewise, Michigan’s PLS initiative is a scalable means of giving families a hand up. Piloted in a number of cities across the country based on the exciting work of the Doorways to Dreams (D2D) Fund, PLS is the next generation of savings strategies. In essence, PLS offers incentives—like raffles and cash—for individuals who open savings accounts and make regular deposits into them. Not only does this increase the amount an individual or family saves, but it also brings un- and underbanked residents into the financial mainstream by connecting them with safe financial products.
These innovations and the other 13 listed above are chronicled in detail in NYUWagner’s report, which you should download here.
CFED Launches the Enterprise Needs Survey on Entrepreneurs’ Financial Strengths & Vulnerabilities
By Kasey Wiedrich on 07/03/2013 @ 01:30 PM
Have you ever wondered what makes some entrepreneurs succeed and others fail? At CFED, we ask ourselves this question all the time (really, enterprise is our middle name), but with a particular interest in understanding how financial access and capability affect entrepreneurs’ odds at success or failure. Instead of just wondering, we decided to do something about it: today, we’re launching a survey to get at businesses’ financial strengths and vulnerabilities, and we need your help.
We need as many respondents as possible, so we’re looking for small business owners to take this 5-minute Enterprise Needs Survey, available in both English and Spanish, online and accessible on mobile devices, between now and July 22. Here’s how you can help:
- If you own a business with fewer than 10 employees and less than $2 million in annual revenue, you can take the survey by clicking here. Business owners who take the survey will be entered in a drawing to win a $100 MasterCard rewards card, which you can use for online purchases wherever MasterCard is accepted.
- If you are with an organization that works with small business owners, you can help us distribute the online survey by emailing a link to the survey to businesses in your network or sending the link out through social media channels. If you’d like to help disseminate the survey, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you just want to help us spread the word about the survey via social media, please link to [https://www.facebook.com/EnterpriseNeedsQuiz] on Facebook or let your followers on Twitter know about the survey by using #eneeds so we can keep track of activity and inserting this [http://bit.ly/13ooM1U] to the survey in your Tweet.
This survey is the first stage in research we are conducting this summer with EA Consultants, and with the support of MasterCard Worldwide, on the financial challenges low- and moderate-income entrepreneurs face and the financial product and service needs they have that are currently unmet in the marketplace. Next, we’ll conduct more in-depth phone surveys with business owners in Minneapolis and Miami. We hope that the findings from this study will contribute to the existing body of knowledge about the financial capability of the self-employed and the types of financial products, services and policies that can improve microbusiness owners’ success.
Questions? Email me at email@example.com.
Join CFED, Democracy Journal & Senator Elizabeth Warren on July 17
By Sean Luechtefeld on 07/01/2013 @ 01:00 PM
Examining the Impact of the
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
A Capitol Hill Policy Forum Sponsored by CFED & Democracy: A Journal of Ideas Featuring Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Wednesday, July 17, 2013 | 10 am - Noon
Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room G-11, Washington, DC
Since its creation as part of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform Act, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has played a critical role in protecting consumers from harmful financial practices and has improved the ability of American consumers to make better-informed financial decisions for themselves and their families.
As we approach the two-year anniversary of the CFPB opening its doors, CFED and Democracy: A Journal of Ideas invite you to a Capitol Hill Policy Forum on Wednesday, July 17 to discuss the CFPB's impact in ensuring the market for consumer financial products and services works for all Americans.
The Policy Forum will feature a keynote address by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), whose vision laid the foundation for the CFPB. Senator Warren's address will be followed by a brief question-and-answer session. The event will also feature a panel of some of the nation’s top experts on consumer protection and financial services from various sectors who will discuss the impact the CFPB has had in establishing and enforcing consumer protection laws and the critical role the CFPB will play going forward.
- Robert G. Kaiser, Associate Editor and Senior Correspondent, Washington Post (Moderator)
- Bill Bynum, President, Hope Enterprise Corporation
- Julie Chon, Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council
- Jeremie Greer, Director of Government Affairs, CFED
- Mae Watson Grote, Executive Director, Financial Clinic
This Policy Forum is free, but advanced registration is required. To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Asset-Building News Roundup - June 28, 2013
By Veronica Weis on 06/28/2013 @ 04:30 PM
We just announced that we'll be hosting a policy forum on Capitol Hill next month on July 17 with Democracy: A Journal of Ideas and featuring Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The event, Examining the Impact of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, will take place in the Dirksen Senate Office Building (Room G-11). To register, please email email@example.com.
The New America Foundation is hosting an event, Saving Financial Aid - Expanding Educational Opportunity and Reimagining the Way We Pay for College by Promoting Children’s Savings, on July 15 from 9:30-11 am. Click here for more information.
The Economic Policy Institute has launched one of the most engaging, interactive tools on income inequality that we've ever seen. Make sure you take a look and check out the "Take Action" section at the bottom for ways we can close the gap.
From the Assets & Opportunity Network
They also shared a blog post with results from the 3rd annual Seattle-King County Asset Building Collaborative Financial Fitness Day. Over 50 participants had their tax returns prepared, more than 200 received help in reviewing their credit reports, and hundreds received assistance in many other areas—accessing public benefits; learning about financing college or where to get job assistance help; opening bank accounts or taking out loans; financial planning; help with mortgage problems or buying a home for the first time; starting or growing a small business; avoiding identity theft; and accessing legal assistance on financial issues. Great work!
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Visits San Francisco Partner Kindergarten to College
By Michael Chasnow and Blanche Brown on 06/28/2013 @ 10:30 AM
EDITOR'S NOTE: This post originally appeared on the 1:1 Fund's blog and can be read here.
Last week, the City of San Francisco’s Office of Financial Empowerment hosted a conversation with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about San Francisco’s Kindergarten to College (K2C) effort and the role of children’s savings in supporting the college dreams of all children. As part of the conversation, San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee and Treasurer José Cisneros moderated a roundtable discussion on K2C’s success so far. Since starting three years ago, K2C has opened more than 8,600 college saving accounts, with savers having now accumulated more than $950,000 in college savings.
Other notable panelists included California’s Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, CFED’s & 1:1 Fund’s Bob Friedman, Citi’s Bob Annibale and school district superintendent Richard Carranza. For media coverage of the event, here’s a story by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Parents and School Leaders Talk College Savings
One of the highlights from the event was an opportunity for several parents and school leaders to share their personal stories about the importance of the K2C program. They brought a real-life perspective to the event that underscored the impact of the program. Dennis Chew, principal of Gordon Lau Elementary, and Michael Lan, a parent of a K2C saver, contributed their thoughts:
Principal Chew: “If the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, K2C helps kids take first step [on their college journey].”
Michael Lan (Parent): “Between my wife and me, [we] always intended for our kids to go to college. The issue was [on the] back-burner; now it is front and center. Because we’re talking about college, our daughter is hearing this early. And it’s not just my child – every kid has an account. It sends a message to this generation that we need to do this together. For our children to be in an environment in which they hear the underlying message [about college] is the most powerful thing of all.”
Exciting Campaign for Kindergarten to College
The 1:1 Fund was very happy to attend the event as a partner, and we have been busy all year raising dollars to match the savings of Kindergarten to College savers. Providing a savings match creates a great savings incentive for account holders, especially those coming from a low-income background. In an effort to honor Arne Duncan’s visit and to prepare for this fall’s incoming kindergarten class, the 1:1 Fund has initiated a Fundly campaign.
Every $100 matches an active student saver – please check it out and consider donating. We want to make sure that every incoming kindergartener can have their savings matched, dollar for dollar!
Supercharging the Effects of Children’s Savings Accounts
By Sean Luechtefeld on 06/26/2013 @ 04:00 PM
This afternoon, I had the pleasure of joining The Hamilton Project at Brookings for a panel discussion on higher education and social mobility at the National Press Club, just around the corner from CFED’s offices. Titled “The Economic Imperative of Expanding College Opportunity,” the event brought together some of the nation’s foremost experts in empowering students for college success.
The first panel, moderated by Michael Greenstone, Director of The Hamilton Project, started with a discussion of new research, led by Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University. Hoxby and her colleagues—recognizing that low-income, high-achieving students provide a unique entry point to improving college success—did an experiment with nearly 30,000 students to test what interventions increase the likelihood of higher-education enrollment. Their experiment disseminated customized information about university applications and application fee waivers to students who fall in the top 10% performance-wise and in the bottom quartile income-wise.
The result? Students with the information packets were 78% more likely to enroll in higher education. The cost? Six dollars per student.
That’s not a typo. For less than the cost of a sandwich in DC, a student could receive information that made them almost twice as likely to enroll in a community college or university than if they had not received that information.
This remarkable finding got me thinking: what if this information dissemination was embedded into a Children's Savings Account (CSA) program? We already know that students with a savings account in their own name are six times more likely to attend college than students without an account. We also know that co-locating services can amplify the effectiveness of those services, and that behavioral interventions often involve little more than ensuring the right populations receive the right information.
These observations, taken together, suggest that a combination of approaches to empowering students for college success—rather than a single, monolithic approach—offer no less than transformative potential. The key, of course, is strategic partnerships between multiple sectors, including local, state and federal governments; state and federal boards of education; nonprofits; for-profit education service providers; researchers and more. The speakers at today’s event are exemplars of this evolution in thinking; the ways that organizations like Brookings, The College Board, public universities, ACT and others have come together indicates promising next steps for the future of college access.
These strategic partnerships are also the type that will make for a viable, scalable CSAs strategy. Evidence abounds that there is growing support for CSAs, but much work remains to be done. One important step is continuing to bring the voices of CSA advocacy together, and CFED remains dedicated to participating in that critical conversation.
Did you attend The Hamilton Project event today? Share your thoughts using the comments below, or tag @CFEDNews on Twitter using hashtag #CollegeOpp.
Manufactured Housing Deserves a Second Look
By Doug Ryan on 06/25/2013 @ 10:30 AM
EDITOR'S NOTE: This piece originally appeared on the National Housing Institute's blog, Rooflines, and can be read here.
Recent housing trends should focus advocates on a very significant problem: the declining homeownership rate.
Investor-driven price increases, reduced affordable inventory, depressed incomes and larger homes have helped move homeownership out of reach for many Americans. Coupled with uncertainties in the mortgage market due to increased credit scrutiny and potential GSE reform, a perfect storm has scattered potential homebuyers.
I agree with recent reports, such as that of the National Association of Realtors, which suggest that the decline in new homeowners is due to the lack of affordable inventory. Inventory is regional and price-based. If you can’t afford the available housing stock in the community where you hope to live, there’s a shortage.
But the shortage has a number of drivers, some of which have not been fully explored. There is a solution, albeit a partial one, that many buyers, advocates and policymakers have overlooked.
The New York Times reported recently reported that investors, who are relatively new to the single-family market, are buying up homes to rent out, raising prices in certain markets. In California and Florida, for example, investors bought 25 percent to 33 percent of the homes in 2012. These two states, hard hit by both the mortgage crisis and the Great Recession, have had a huge stock of low-cost houses, but potential owner-occupiers have had little chance against all-cash investors.
Yet the hope is that as the employment pictures in both states improve, more individual homebuyers will enter the market. It appears, however, that the disconnect between prices and incomes may be squeezing families out of the market. This is happening in housing markets across the country.
While interest rates remain low, declining wages and other factors hinder a family’s ability to buy a home. Home prices have climbed much faster than incomes. In the 12 months ended April 2013, existing home prices rose to $193,000, an increase of 11 percent. According to the census, new home prices jumped by nine percent in 2012, up to $292,200. And new homes, including both single-family and for-sale multifamily homes, are larger than ever, according to that same census report. As homes become larger, they become even more unaffordable. Excluding land costs, new homes now cost $86.30 per square foot, the most since 2008. Multiplying more dollars times more square feet equals more unaffordable housing.
In a national housing “market” of over 132 million units, devising a viable housing is a herculean task. There is an opportunity, perhaps, to build on an existing housing platform to help address inventory and affordability issues in many local markets: manufactured housing.
Manufactured Housing in a New Light
Many advocates and policy makers, as well as lenders and investors, have an unfair, antiquated view of manufactured housing. To get to the point, manufactured housing is not, and has not been for decades, mobile trailers that devalue a neighborhood and lock people into poverty. It’s housing that can appreciate, blend into existing and planned neighborhoods and become a meaningful part of a region’s housing assets. And it is less expensive, less wasteful and quicker to develop than other housing options.
Manufactured housing costs about half of what site-built units cost. In 2012, for example, after subtracting land costs, manufactured homes cost about $44 per square foot; site built, as noted above, costs over $86. And since the typical new manufactured home shipped in 2012 was 1,475 square feet, about 60 percent the size of a new home, advocates and others should see how this smaller, less costly housing type can open the door to homeownership for tens of thousands of families who quite simply have been locked out of the resurgent housing marketplace.
The manufactured housing market is far from perfect. Chattel, or personal property, loans, dominate the financing of these homes, even in cases where the home is titled as real estate or is sited on private property (as opposed to in a community or “park”). A chattel loan can add hundreds of dollars to a monthly payment, reducing the asset-building potential of homeownership, and reducing the owner’s ability to pay down the loan. Our organization, the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) is working with partners to improve financing and titling options for buyers. More competition in financing is better for everyone.
Other challenges loom, too. If the family owns the unit but has no control over the land beneath the home, then they are threatened by retaliation, unfair lot rent increases and even eviction without cause. CFED and other advocates are also focused on improving owner control of these communities.
Advocates need to look at manufactured housing in a new light, because it deserves it. Since 1976, when HUD began to regulate the industry, industry has developed better, more efficient and more attractive manufactured homes. Manufacturers suffered badly in the early part of the century for a number of reasons, some of which presaged the larger mortgage meltdown, but the sector seems poised for something of a comeback. No doubt these companies would welcome a healthy dialogue with affordable housing advocates.
A template to improve homeownership is out there to see. We just need to look again.
Asset-Building News Roundup - June 21, 2013
By Veronica Weis on 06/21/2013 @ 05:30 PM
The Aspen Institute Ascend Fund is hosting two webinars about the Ascend Fund on June 26 and July 22. You can sign up by clicking here.
The 1:1 Fund has launched a new campaign to honor U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's recent visit to San Francisco to learn about children's savings accounts. Donate $10 today to help kids save for college.
At midnight on June 24, the Annie E. Casey Foundation will release its 2013 KIDS COUNT Data Book and redesigned online Data Center. This report provides information on the conditions of children and families in the United States, including how each state ranks in terms of child well-being. Stay tuned for the release next week!
The House of Representatives voted down their version of a Farm Bill that would have meant $20.5 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). Want to read what CFED experts had to say on this bill? Click here for a piece published in The Hill.
An article in The Atlantic this week offers a male perspective on the link between work-life balance and income inequality.
Why is it so hard for the poor to get ahead today? One answer might be education. A timely article this week points out that high-income kids who don't graduate from college are 2.5 times more likely to end up rich than low-income kids who do get a degree.
NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health recently polled 1,081 African-Americans about their lives and found that the participants were evenly divided when it came to financial perceptions. Their conclusions are relevant to the current debate on how to close the burgeoning racial wealth gap.
From the Assets & Opportunity Network
The Midas Collaborative in Massachusetts is asking for readers to place one call today to support the various legislation on the table that could significantly impact the financial security of low- and moderate-income families.
Defining Problem Statements in the BETA Project
While defining the problem is the first step towards a solution, crafting the right problem statement is inherently difficult. As we mentioned in our last post, a well-crafted problem statement should not be defined too broadly, too narrowly or with hidden presumptions. Here’s how we refined the problem statements at each of our three pilot sites in the BETA Project.
Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners
The initial problem statement from Neighborhood Trust’s application to the BETA Project was:
Barriers such as inconvenient locations of credit unions and banks keep “unbanked but bankable” clients from using asset-enhancing bank accounts and remain reliant on expensive fringe financial services.
This problem definition seemed too broad to our team because it concentrated on the use of fringe financial services. It presumed that bank account use is a perfect substitute for fringe financial services, while these services can actually address very different financial needs (e.g., using a checking account to pay bills vs. taking out a payday loan). We also felt that focusing too narrowly on “unbanked but bankable” clients would unnecessarily restrict the sample of clients we seek to serve through the project and prevent other client segments from potentially benefitting from an intervention.
Our refined problem statement is:
Low-income individuals sign up for accounts with affiliated credit unions during Neighborhood Trust’s financial education course, but do not fully utilize them.
In contrast to the original statement, the refined statement focuses purely on client account use, without any assumption that this will necessarily lead to reduced use of fringe financial services, and includes the full client population.
Accion Texas, Inc.
In contrast to the Neighborhood Trust example, Accion Texas’ application contained a problem statement that seemed too narrow:
For individuals with credit scores lower than 522, having separated personal and business checking accounts almost doubles the probability of repayment in comparison to individuals that only have one checking account or have no bank account at all. Accion hopes to help the underbanked borrowers improve loan repayment rates so they can build or improve their credit and move up the asset-building chain.
The original problem statement directed us to look at loan repayment rates, but when we gathered more information about delinquencies, we found that Accion’s customers repaid their loans at rates on par with, if not better than, the rates expected for a nonprofit microlender. Additionally, Accion’s problem statement concentrated specifically on underbanked individuals with low credit scores. Segmenting borrowers based on their credit scores or banking status precluded an accurate diagnosis of the problem. A person’s financial status can be in a state of flux: credit scores go up and down, bank accounts are opened and closed. Furthermore, while the underbanked may face unique challenges in repayment, we did not want to exclude the possibility of interventions targeting all of Accion’s clients.
Based on conversations with Accion staff, we learned that late payments took a significant amount of staff resources to manage and that there were negative consequences for borrowers. Customers were charged late fees and Non-Sufficient Funds fees and were at risk of damaging their credit scores if Accion reported their delinquencies. Additionally, most borrowers were enrolled in automatic electronic payments, but sometimes did not have enough money in the account on the date their payments were withdrawn. This led the BETA Project team to revise the problem statement to target on-time loan payments:
Borrowers have difficulties making consistent, on-time repayments using the Automatic Clearing House (ACH) electronic withdrawal system.
This changed the focus to preventing borrowers from becoming past due and entering the collections process, rather than on borrowers who are already past due on their repayment.
Cleveland Housing Network
Finally, problem statements can contain hidden presumptions that limit the possibilities for diagnosis and design. Cleveland Housing Network’s original problem statement contained this kind of presumption:
Barriers such as poor marketing inhibit residents in the Lease Purchase Program from paying rent online.
This statement made two presumptions. First, it presumed that poor marketing of the program is what is preventing online payment. Second, it presumed that if more people signed up to pay rent online, they would be more likely to pay their rent on time. This second presumption is hidden—meaning it is implied rather than directly stated. In our initial discussions with the Cleveland Housing Network, management indicated that on-time rent payment was the goal, and that online payment was a means to reach that ultimate goal. We felt the presumptions would limit the range of possible solutions to the ultimate goal of repayment. Further, we checked the second assumption against one month of data and found that many people paid their rent late even if they had signed up for the online payment system.
After further discussion with the Cleveland Housing Network, we revised the statement:
Despite multiple payment options, clients in the Lease Purchase Program fail to pay their rent on time.
The revised problem statement eliminates these presumptions. It also presents us with a different target: we attempt to encourage residents to pay their rent on time, rather than focus only on online payments.
Next BETA Project Post: Diagnosis
This post and other helpful insights from the BETA Project are available on the Behavioral Economics blog and the BETA Project website. Our next post will look at how reworking the problem statements for the BETA project sets the stage for our next phase: diagnosis. We will discuss how we started the process of moving from these problem statements to a diagnosis of the underlying behaviors and psychologies that may be preventing clients from achieving their desired outcomes.
Small Business Week Story: Meet the Curriers
By Veronica Weis on 06/20/2013 @ 11:00 AM
EDITOR'S NOTE: As part of Small Business Week on The Inclusive Economy, we're making the case for policies that benefit self-employed Americans by telling their stories of success. This last story features the Curriers, a couple in the Twin Cities area who worked with our partners at AccountAbility Minnesota.
The Curriers had debt, but not enough to qualify for a lower interest rate and consolidation. So when they found out that they qualified for tax breaks as small business owners, they were delighted.
“Ron and I have always been in the middle of things,” Stefanie said. “Having our taxes done here has saved us a lot of money and time. “
To get her taxes prepared, the Curriers went to AccountAbility Minnesota (AAM) – a community-based nonprofit that provides free tax assistance to lower income individuals and families to build their assets and give them financial security. CFED’s Self-Employment Tax Initiative (SETI) program provides the funding to train tax professionals in self-employment services and also support AAM’s innovative pilot to provide video tax preparation and the development of Webinars on retirement planning for the self‐employed.
Stefanie loved working with Accountability Minnesota because every time she called with a question, a tax adviser quickly provided her an answer! The additional money they received from working with AAM on their taxes allowed them to expand their economic opportunity.
“The money we received back last year helped us to pay down our debt. This year we plan on paying off more debt so next year (hopefully) we will be in a position to buy a home!”
Small Business Week Story: Meet Natasha
By Veronica Weis on 06/19/2013 @ 01:30 PM
EDITOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to our friends at EBALDC for sharing this tax-time story.
As part of Small Business Week on The Inclusive Economy, we're making the case for policies that benefit self-employed Americans by telling their stories of success. This second story features Natasha, a Woman's Initiative for Self-Employment graduate.
“I’m a Woman’s Initiative for Self Employment graduate; I graduated last year. They told me about [EBALDC] and that was how I first met you. It was free, which was amazing for a small business owner, since the bottom line. In every other place you go you have to spend hundreds of dollars. Here, not only you get this more personalized service but you don’t have to pay for it. For a small business owner, it makes a huge difference. I decided to save half of my refund. [I learned] not to expense my gas and I should learn to track my mileage instead, which I’m working on. The moment I got my taxes done I put it on my facebook, and I tweeted about. Duh, it’s awesome! This is the first time I have ever committed some of the refund to savings and doing something with it. Usually my tax refund would disappear within a couple of weeks.
The whole commitment of saving half of my refund… I found out about it, got a letter, and then you called me. I think it’s great. People need that one special extra push to save. It’s hard to save, and it’s great this program is in place because it helps as lot of people.”
Does your organization help entrepreneurs like Natasha? If so, send us an email so we can share your success stories during National Small Business Week and beyond!
Helpful Tactics to Define a Problem
Behavioral economics is, ultimately, about how we think of people. The assumptions we make about people change how we approach problems related to their behavior. If we assume that their actions follow their intentions, we will design programs that attempt to change intentions. If we think that people take an action if they are informed of the consequences, we will design programs to educate them. However, if we take people as they are—fallible yet clever, short-tempered yet patient, the paragon of animals and yet the quintessence of dust—we can design interventions that work.
This approach makes defining a problem (that gets to the core issue at hand and that can be addressed by behavioral diagnosis and design) really hard. Crafting a problem definition is as much an art as a science. As such, there are no step-by-step set of instructions to follow. However, we will share a few of our favorite tips and tricks that have proven useful in the BETA Project.
Tactic #1: Change the Scope
A problem statement often starts off as a piece of a bigger problem or as a collection of smaller problems. When a problem is defined too broadly or too narrowly, a change of scope is necessary. A problem statement that is too broadly defined often falls beyond that project’s scope of work and can feel overwhelming and daunting. In the BETA Project, to check for this, we would ask ourselves, “What are the components of this problem? Of these, what is the highest priority and achievable?”
A narrow problem statement, on the other hand, limits investigators from exploring other areas that may ultimately prove relevant. It feels like solving it won’t actually get you to the desired goal. To check for a statement that is too narrow, we would ask, “Is this part of another problem? Would fixing this problem just be one of many other fixes necessary to solve that other problem?”
While there isn’t one right answer to any of these questions, reflecting upon them in the BETA Project often helped us detect a hazy problem definition. It also set us up to practice the following two problem definition tactics.
Tactic #2: Remove Assumptions
In April, we posted a summary of the 99 problems presented to the BETA Project. It was really interesting to see how these problems looked from the applicants’ perspectives, but the problem statements often contained hidden assumptions about the challenge posed.
For example, some applicants reported that they experienced low take-up of their program because their promotional materials are not well designed. This assumes that their problem is bad advertising and that low take-up is due to a lack of knowledge about the program. Looking at the problem with these assumptions sets someone up to try to fix the advertising, without thinking about whether or not there could be other reasons for the low take-up. Assumptions limit the exploration of possible solutions in many domains, from the field of asset building to Antarctic exploration.
Consider the classic behavioral problem of getting people to save more for retirement. For decades, human resources professionals have tried to encourage employees to save more for retirement. They typically used one of two approaches: either increasing the employer match, or encouraging employees to attend seminars. They rarely thought about how the problem was defined and instead focused on costly incentives and time-consuming education as potential solutions.
These approaches have built-in assumptions about why people were not saving. They assume that people are not saving because of a lack of motivation (which would be solved by increasing the employee match) or education (which would be solved by classes). Incentives and education are powerful tools for a program designer, but they should be considered two tools among many.
By removing these assumptions and asking “How can we get people to save more?” we open up the range of possible solutions to try out. New possible diagnoses (such as limited attention) present themselves, and they imply novel solutions (such as “opt out” 401(k) programs).
Tactic #3: Change Representation
Another useful tactic for problem solving is changing how the problem is represented. Imagine that you and a friend are playing a game. In the game, you lay out nine cards (an ace and all the numbered cards, two through nine), and you alternate turns picking up cards from a table until one person has three cards that total exactly fifteen. You start by laying out the cards in a row and start to play.
How should you even start? It’s really hard to determine the best way to play when the cards are laid out this way. More likely than not, you’ll end up with a game that looks something like this where there’s no way you can win—or block your friend from winning.
How could you avoid this situation? What if you went back to the beginning of the game and re-thought the problem? You realize that the object of the game is to lay out the cards and be the first to get three cards totaling exactly fifteen. There’s nothing that says the cards initially need to be laid out in a row. By laying out the game and representing the problem that way, you made it hard for you to play. So, you rethink the layout of the cards and position them in a square where each row, column, and diagonal totals 15.
With the numbers arranged in a “magic square,” the problem becomes simple because it’s set up like a tic-tac-toe game. As long as you pick a corner card first, you can’t lose (watch “How to Win Tic Tac Toe Every Time” if you don’t believe us). Changing how we represent the problem makes it easier to see the path towards solutions. For practitioners designing programs, changing representations can be done by thinking about the situation from a different perspective. For example, you could ask yourself, “How does my client view this situation? Would they think there is a problem? How would they define it?”
Next BETA Project Post: Defining Problem Statements in the BETA Project
By using each of these tactics in the BETA Project, we were able to refine the problem statement at each site to arrive at problem statements that are not defined too broadly, too narrowly or tangled with hidden presumptions. Our next post on the BETA Project will look at the original and final problem statements for each site and how we refined them. This post and other helpful insights from the BETA Project are available on CFED’s Behavioral Economics blog and BETA Project website.
Small Business Week Story: Meet Entrepreneurs Oscar and Zaida
By Veronica Weis on 06/18/2013 @ 06:30 PM
EDITOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to our friends at EBALDC for sharing this tax-time story.
As part of Small Business Week on The Inclusive Economy, we're making the case for policies that benefit self-employed Americans by telling their stories of success. The first story features Oscar and Zaida, a couple who owns a small catering business and has helped other entrepreneurs in the past with free tax services in their community.
From EBALDC Staff:
We first met Oscar in 2011 when he and his wife came in as clients to file taxes for their new catering business. Oscar was so interested in our free VITA tax service that he came back the following year as a volunteer! He's now been helping other people with their taxes for 2 years and says that he does it because he loves to keep learning. He also works full time, has children, runs the catering business on the side, and comes in to volunteer 1-2 times a week.
Oscar has been an amazing addition to our team, after being featured in a video (included below) we made regarding our tax site he has kept coming back for free tax preparation and has catered our volunteer appreciation event the past few years and has also volunteered to learn and prepare income tax returns himself. He told us that next year he will bring us his daughter, who is a high school student, to volunteer as well.
From Oscar and Zaida in 2011:
"My name is Zaida and I’m here to do my taxes. My name is Oscar and we are here to do our business and personal taxes. This is our first time here. We went to a CEO Women’s workshop and we learned about the program you guys have. Our business is catering – food, Mexican and Italian food. I know how to cook Mexican, Italian food, and I like it a lot so I combine it all. We just started it last year, so we’re still struggling. CEO Women helped me a lot to have confidence. This is our first year filing taxes, and we’re really scared. Before we had someone help us do our taxes, but when I went to class I received more knowledge and I better find out the right information. It’s way different to do personal taxes than to do business class. We heard about [EBALDC’s] workshop so we went, and learned about the great opportunity for us.
We will reinvest our refund in our business to get more customers and more money. If we went to a regular accountant, we would probably pay at least $200-300. I heard from someone else that business taxes can be really expensive, and since we’re struggling with everything, I told Oscar, ‘Call Leo’ (Leo is one of our tax preparers). It was a really good opportunity."
The First Step towards a Solution
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s post is the first of a three-part series on defining problems for behaviorally informed interventions. Come back tomorrow and Thursday for the other two posts in this series.
At each of our pilot sites, the BETA Project uses a four-stage problem-solving process: define, diagnose, design and test. In the coming months, we will highlight interesting findings from our work at each stage over this past year.
We’ll start by discussing the define stage, where we attempt to correctly define a problem that can be addressed by behavioral diagnosis and design.
In order to solve a problem, you need to know what the problem is. Individuals and organizations often fail to take adequate time to define their problem. Instead, they leap directly into creating solutions. Only when those solutions fail do they go back to the drawing board and attempt to figure out exactly what problem they are trying to solve.
There are examples of failures to properly define problems in many domains. An especially illustrative example comes from the failure of the famous Arctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s “Terra Nova” expedition.
Scurvy, Scott & Getting to the South Pole
Robert Falcon Scott wanted to be the first explorer to reach the South Pole. His first “Discovery” expedition in 1902 was thwarted by difficulties with starving sled dogs and an outbreak of scurvy among men on the team. Scurvy is a horrible disease with symptoms that include extreme tiredness, disintegrating gums, immobilization and open wounds that won’t heal. Given his experience, in preparation for Terra Nova eight years later, Scott attempted to prevent scurvy by seeking the latest advice from doctors and other Arctic explorers. He was told that scurvy was caused by bacteria in tainted canned meat, and took great care to prepare the Terra Nova team accordingly. Unfortunately, these precautions didn’t help, and Scott and his team ended up in an icy grave.
Today we know that scurvy is caused by a vitamin deficiency and can be prevented and treated by eating fresh fruits, vegetables and certain animal products that contain vitamin C. While this specific fact wasn’t known to Scott and many of his contemporaries, medical research in the 1700s concluded that "scurvy is solely owing to a total abstinence from fresh vegetable food and greens; which is alone the primary cause of the disease." By 1740, the British Royal Navy mandated that every sailor receive a daily dose of lemon or lime juice to forestall the disease. If it was known for almost 200 years that lemon or lime juice could prevent and cure scurvy, why in the world was Scott trying to guard against bacteria in tainted meat?
One major conundrum is that Scott and the scurvy experts he consulted defined the problem incorrectly. While doctors in the 1700s took a wide lens to the problem and asked “How do we prevent and treat scurvy?” with the development of germ theory in disease research by the early 1900s, Scott and his contemporaries took a more narrow lens. They assumed that scurvy had a bacteriological origin (borrowed from germ theory), and consequently defined the problem as “How do we ensure that our meat is not tainted with bacteria?” For many diseases, like cholera, germ theory was an important medical advancement because bacteria are the actual cause. But for scurvy, it was a step backward, as scurvy is caused by a vitamin deficiency and not the presence of bacteria.
When a problem is poorly defined, it is difficult to correctly interpret information. Experienced Arctic explorers such as Scott noticed that when explorers ate fresh seal meat, the symptoms of scurvy lessened. However, when they preserved the meat, scurvy re-surfaced. We now know that this is because the process of preserving and cooking meat leached away vitamin C. But since they had defined the problem incorrectly, Scott’s expedition believed this was evidence that they had failed to properly preserve the meat. Tragically, the expedition would throw out meat that was perfectly well-preserved (though lacking vitamin C) under the mistaken belief that it was tainted with bacteria.
The advance in medical knowledge was, in this case, a curse. Rather than exploring what actually causes scurvy, practitioners in the field started to take intense efforts to rid their food of bacteria, making Scott’s efforts to protect his team from scurvy entirely ineffective. The problem was defined too narrowly, and it contained the assumption that scurvy was caused by bacteria. With a broader definition of the problem, Scott’s might have returned home safely, rather than resting in a cairn somewhere in the Ross Ice Shelf.
Next BETA Project Post: Helpful Tactics to Define a Problem
How can we, as practitioners in the consumer finance field, avoid similar pitfalls of poor problem definition? In our next BETA Project blog post, we will highlight some problem definition tactics that were especially helpful to us and may be helpful to leverage findings from behavioral theory for your own program. These posts and other helpful insights from the BETA Project will be available on CFED’s Behavioral Economics blog and the BETA Project website.
Three Steps to Kick Off National Small Business Week
Today is the first day of National Small Business Week (NSBW), a series of events sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration to highlight the impact of entrepreneurs, owners of small businesses and other self-employed professionals.
For years, CFED has supported NSBW because of our commitment to the low-income entrepreneurs who start and grow businesses that fuel the U.S. economy. This year, we’re offering three ideas for ways to support the efforts of microentrepreneurs.
- Entrepreneur Stories
One of the ways we can make the case for policies that benefit self-employed Americans is by telling their stories of success. This week on The Inclusive Economy, we’ll offer three such stories, so check back daily! (Have a story you want to share? Email Veronica!)
- SETI Resource Bank
Ideal for practitioners, the SETI Resource Bank offers a range of tools to help you make the most out of the time you spend supporting your clients. The Resource Bank also includes outreach tools for VITA sites and other tax preparation services.
- Twitter Recommendations
Throughout the week, make sure you’re following us on Twitter (@cfednews), where we’ll connect you with some people and organizations to follow who provide valuable resources. For example, you can start following Sam’s Club (@samsclub) today, as they offer a ton of helpful tips for their network of millions of owners of small businesses. (Pro tip: When Tweeting, make sure to use hashtag #microbiz and #SBW2013.)
Is your organization participating in NSBW? Tell us how below!
Asset-Building News Roundup - June 14, 2013
By Veronica Weis on 06/14/2013 @ 02:00 PM
On June 18, Senator Mary Landrieu, Chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrpreneurship & Small Business Majority will host a conference call to celebrate the 50th annual National Small Business Week. You can register here.
The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development released a study this week that concluded that discrimination against minorities looking for housing persists in subtle forms. The New York Times offers key takeaways but you can click here to read the full report.
A newly released report by the Center for an Urban Future at the New York University's Wagner School spotlights the 15 most innovative policies from cities around the U.S. and the world that could serve as a model. Notables are San Francisco's Kindergarten to College children's savings accounts program and Michigan's Prize-Linked Savings initiative.
The top cities in the U.S. for unbanked populations received considerable media coverage this week as outlets in Miami, Philadelphia and Memphis focused on the need to help the large number of unbanked and underbanked populations in their states gain access to reliable and safe financial products.
What's the biggest scandal in America? The Washington Post's answer might surprise you: "22 percent of children in the richest country in the history of the world live at or below the federal poverty line — and if it weren’t bad enough that more than 1 in five American children live at or below the federal poverty line nearly half live in low-income families that struggle to meet basic needs."
According to a CFPB report released on Tuesday, rules to curb overdrafts charges have produced mixed results.
From the Assets & Opportunity Network
Millennials Will Reinvent Charity
By John Bare, Guest Contributor on 06/13/2013 @ 02:30 PM
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following story originally appeared on CNNOpinion and is well worth the read for our friends in the micro and IDA fields. You can read the original post here.
My niece Sarah is one of the do-gooders with an entrepreneurial bent who's blurring nonprofit and for-profit activities.
Through micro-lending, Individual Development Accounts, creative marketing and a novel kind of stock offering, these disruptors are re-imagining charitable giving and re-purposing investment tools.
Now we need policies and financial instruments to catch up to the movement.
Sarah is one of more than 900,000 Kiva lenders who have made more than $440 million in loans to entrepreneurs in 68 countries. Kiva is a nonprofit organization that facilitates micro-loans. Amounts as small as $25 can help someone -- usually a woman -- start or expand a business. The effects can be life changing.
Starting with the $1,000 Kiva fund I gave her as a high school graduation gift, Sarah found time during college to make 30 loans totaling $1,700 to entrepreneurs in 17 countries, from Bolivia to Uganda.
As folks repay the loans, Sarah keeps making new loans and helping more people change their lives. A funding pool that replenishes itself gives Kiva an edge over typical charities. With most cash donations, when the receiving organization spends the money, it's gone for good.
There's a catch: Sarah can loan money to a grocer in Ghana, a farmer in Uganda and a weaver in India -- but she has not been able to loan money to entrepreneurs in the United States.
Because of technical and policy issues with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, it's easier to help entrepreneurs in another country than in our own backyard.
The bright folks at Kiva are creating a work-around. Kiva Zip is an experiment in "person-to-person lending."
Using Kiva Zip, Tommy in West Helena, Arkansas, sought a loan to expand his barbecue and catfish restaurant. Tracy in Pittsburgh is seeking a loan to move her home hair salon into a commercial space. She expects expansion to create three or four jobs.
Kiva Zip comes along as Grameen America is bringing its micro-lending model to more U.S. cities.
Thirty years after Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus created Grameen Bank, which has extended micro-finance to 8 million people in Bangladesh, Grameen America now has branches in New York, Los Angeles, Oakland, Omaha, Indianapolis and Charlotte.
Some of the business-charity hybrids are counterintuitive. While many nonprofit groups ask local businesses for donations, the reverse is uncommon. Yet Ross Baird emerged from the University of Oxford in 2009 with just that notion. He created a nonprofit organization, Village Capital, that raises rounds of capital to invest in startup companies.
One foundation invented a new kind of stock offering to turn neighborhood stakeholders into real stockholders.
Fulfilling its commitment to "resident ownership," the Jacobs Family Foundation wanted to transfer a chunk of the equity in a commercial development project to residents living nearby. It took attorneys six years and 40 drafts to invent a way, and in 2005 Jacobs issued the first-ever Community Development IPO.
Residents purchased all 50,000 units of stock, priced at $10 per share.
In Philadelphia, Dr. Mariana Chilton began working with mothers who didn't have enough food. Through Witnesses to Hunger, she put the mothers in front of elected officials to advocate for federal nutrition programs.
Chilton discovered that women from Witnesses to Hunger were also entrepreneurs. Hustling to put food on the table for their kids, literally, these mothers were earning $50 here and there doing hair and nails or babysitting.
Problem is, no one treated these mothers as entrepreneurs. Their business activities were discouraged or penalized, either because of overly enthusiastic local government regulations or upside-down rules of federal assistance programs. The reporting requirements, intended to deter fraud, were not calibrated to accommodate modest income fluctuations associated with their entrepreneurial activities.
Chilton is chipping away at change. Her team is giving mothers technical assistance to bring their micro-businesses into the mainstream. She is connecting the women to bank accounts, and Chilton's nonprofit will match deposits the mothers make into savings accounts and Individual Development Accounts.
Policy changes could help. The federal nutrition benefits should diminish gradually over time, as folks get on their feet. At a moment when we need innovative thinking, the old rules still use a bright-line test to force mothers to choose between food and work.
Further, we need more technical and policy advancements that make social investing easy. Few organizations have the time and resources to chase legal solutions for six years. The next generation of leaders must generate breakthrough solutions that can operate at scale.
A good place to start is MCON13, which is hashtag-speak for a conference devoted to engaging the 80 million U.S. millennials in giving and volunteerism. Next month hundreds of professionals will gather in Indianapolis at MCON13 to crack the code on millennials.
Expect millennials to keep blurring the lines. If Sarah can loan $50 to a farmer in Paraguay, why not a hair dresser in Philadelphia?
Six Online Tools & Resources to Help Low-Income Entrepreneurs Save Money
By Brian Spero, Guest Contributor on 06/12/2013 @ 10:30 AM
Thanks to new technology and the Internet, entrepreneurship in America is once again for everyone, providing a real opportunity for those currently categorized as low-income to change their fortune and reach financial self-sufficiency. If you are wrestling with the concept of how to overcome challenges such as limited capital and access to credit to start your own business, or if you work for an organization dedicated to helping low-income entrepreneurs succeed in the mainstream economy, consider these six online tools and resources to keep costs to a minimum.
In the modern era, a functional website is an essential part of establishing a professional business identity. While it can cost thousands of dollars to design a high-end e-commerce website, just about anyone can use WordPress to create a beautiful website or blog at a minimal cost. Registration is free, and the initial process is simple and straightforward, allowing users to choose from a array of themes and options to customize a website's look and functionality. You'll find all of the support you need to get started on the WordPress website, including information on choosing hosting and advanced strategies that enable even a novice to create an online home for an entrepreneurial venture.
- Google Voice
Communication is a basic concern for any business entity, and Google Voice provides a comprehensive free solution for transforming the capabilities of an existing personal line without taking on the additional expense of a business phone. After registering with Google Voice, a unique phone number is assigned that can be used and distributed as a professional contact. Incoming calls are then forwarded to whichever line is chosen (you can use your home number or a cell phone), allowing the user to set preferences for personalized greetings, voice mail forwarding, call screening and more. There are even options for sending SMS to email, conferencing in multiple callers and low-cost international rates.
Accounting and invoicing can be extremely expensive to outsource, as well as intimidating and time-consuming to tackle on your own, making FreshBooks cloud accounting a welcome lifeline for low-income entrepreneurs. With a free basic version to help get started (with up to three clients) and inexpensive monthly fees for a complement of professional features, FreshBoooks is designed to make it simple for businesses to save time billing, get paid faster, record expenses and keep time sheets for individual projects. From providing revealing reports that demonstrate ways to be more financially efficient, to supplying records for everything you need at income tax time, FreshBooks is a time-saving tool for keeping a personal business financially fit.
Starting a venture, whether it's a small business or charitable nonprofit, requires legal expertise to ensure that best interests are protected. Nolo is a comprehensive source that can potentially save startups thousands in legal fees, providing a library of expert-level advice and do-it-yourself instructions on everything from forming an LLC and registering a business name, to insights on businesses taxes, contracts, and litigation. Beyond a huge database of legal topics, Nolo supplies access to the gamut of necessary forms, documents and reference material, as well as a directory of law professionals available for consultation.
When hiring a human resources representative or paying expensive head-hunters is out of the question, oDesk is a powerful tool to help you locate the staff needed to grow a business. oDesk not only helps low-income entrepreneurs connect with service providers through free online job posting, but also features a qualified database of top freelancers working in everything from customer service and sales, to administrative and Web development. With features that help you contract employees on a need-basis, monitor workflow from remote locations, and make safe, direct payments, an independent business can get the high-quality support it needs on its own terms without an additional investment of resources.
FreeCycle is an online grassroots movement that operates on a community level. It connects people interested in giving away quality, no-longer-needed items to those who have a genuine use for it. It's completely nonprofit, totally free and extremely popular, with nearly 10 million members around the world.On any given day, a budget-conscious independent businessperson can find essentials ranging from office furniture, telephones and filing cabinets, to computers, computer accessories and paper products for the simple price of arranging for a pickup. If a business is nonprofit or benefits the community, there can often be found high-end items in excellent condition offered exclusively for ventures with a charitable focus.
As economic turbulence continues to cause high unemployment and underemployment, a growing number of individuals are turning to self-employment as a means for creating opportunity and filling income gaps. By utilizing free and cost-effective online tools and resources, low-income entrepreneurs can leap inherent hurdles and chase down the dream of financial independence and security.
Can you suggest any other online resources for entrepreneurs on a tight budget? Use the comments section below to share your tips!
Brian Spero writes about business, economic policy and technology on the popular personal finance site, Money Crashers.
Meet Jamira: A Low-Income Student Turned National Children’s Savings Advocate
By Veronica Weis on 06/11/2013 @ 04:00 PM
Jamira Burley is the Executive Director for the City of Philadelphia Youth Commission and an outspoken advocate of the power of college savings for low-income youth. She recently spoke at a CFED & Opportunity Nation Forum on College Savings in Washington, DC.
Q: Did you grow up thinking that college was a possibility?
As the first of 16 children to graduate from high school and attend college, for a long time, I didn’t think it was even an option. Neither of my parents had graduated from high school, let alone college, and it always just seemed so far out of reach.
Q: How were you able to afford the costs of a college education?
The summer before my senior year of college I decided that I was going to college. So, I applied to every scholarship that I could find and I also was lucky enough to have a full-time job which helped me pay for college and college-related expenses.
Q: What would be the best way to help kids and their parents think about and plan for college?
I think the earlier parents and children start to think about college and preparing is best because it would give them an opportunity to learn and research all of the available options.
From speaking with many of my peers whose families had put aside money for their education, I learned that it didn’t start with a lot of money and parents just saved what they could. So, I think parents and students have to learn and understand their financial options in paying for school but also start saving early, even if it’s a dollar here and there.
Q: What advice would you give to students who might become discouraged and think college might be financially out of reach?
As a person who has worked in education both secondary and post-secondary, I would say that there are way too many options out there, if you look for them. There are a number of scholarships that go unclaimed every year because students don’t apply. I know a lot of people think that it’s all about your GPA but that’s not true. There are a number, hundreds of scholarships, that select awardees on other things besides GPA.
Q: What do you hope to do with your education in the future?
I hope to use my education to enhance the work that I do with youth. My goal is to one day attend law school and help to create policies that will make education more accessible for everyone.
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