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Fund Hopes to Attract Givers for College Savings

JACKSON, Miss. — A new effort wants people nationwide to help poor children in Mississippi and San Francisco save for college.

The 1:1 Fund is being launched by the Corporation for Enterprise Development. In Mississippi, the marketing effort expands on the Mississippi College Savings Account Program. And it has helped more than 500 children in Jackson, Leland and Greenville open college savings accounts.

“The 1:1 Fund will allow us to reach a whole new group of people who understand the value of higher education and want to help low-income kids go to college but haven’t known how to make that happen,” Carl Rist, the fund’s executive director, said in a statement.

A 2010 study shows students with their own college savings accounts are almost four times more likely to attend college than those who don’t have one.

In Mississippi, the program is helping preschoolers believe they’re going to college, said Ernestine Bilbrew from the Mississippi Community Financial Access Coalition.

“Just them thinking that has a tremendous impact on their aspirations to go to school,” she said. “I just fell in love with this program.”

Mississippi’s two-year pilot program has provided $30,000 to $40,000 to participants, using money from the Kellogg Foundation. The program seeds accounts in a child’s name with a $50 deposit. It then encourages families to deposit more, with the program sometimes matching those deposits. It’s a restricted, deposit-only account, so it can’t be used for anything other than some sort of post high-school education.

“What we’re trying to do is get parents to give their kids a leg up,” Bilbrew said.

The Mississippi effort is trying to raise $400,000 or more over the next three years to keep matching existing accounts and adding new children. It’s part of a national effort to help poor families build assets, so they can better absorb life’s financial bumps and achieve goals such as owning a reliable car, a home and sending children to college.

Mississippi, because of low income levels and a history of poverty, ranks low in asset ownership and financial stability, the Corporation for Enterprise Development said in a 2012 study. About 32 percent of the state’s households don’t have enough money set aside to last three months if their income was cut off, 46th among the states. And Mississippi ranks last for the share of households without a bank account.

San Francisco launched its Kindergarten to College program in 2010. The city government gives every public school kindergartener a $50 account, and kicks in another $50 for poorer children. Private givers match a family’s first $100 in savings, plus a $100 bonus if a family signs up for automatic monthly deposits to the account.

The city has 3,300 children already enrolled in the program and plans to add another 4,400 this year.

The 1:1 Fund, which officially launched last Thursday, chose Mississippi and San Francisco because they have existing programs. The effort hopes to raise matching funds for 9,000 accounts in the two test markets, expanding nationally by 2015.

“For the first time, anyone, whether they donate $10 or $100, will have an easy and secure way to invest in a child’s college education by visiting the 1:1 Fund website,” Rist said.

The fund plans to promote itself through social media and other methods. Donors are supposed to get progress reports on savers supported by their giving.

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