U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) introduced legislation Thursday to help increase the number of low-income students able to access and complete a college education. The American Dream Accounts Act of 2012, which is cosponsored by Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), would authorize the Department of Education to award three-year competitive grants to support innovative and comprehensive partnerships that support low-income students in preparation for a college education. U.S. Representative Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) will introduce the American Dream Accounts Act in the House of Representatives on Monday.
"One of the lessons we've learned from the recent recession is that unemployment has remained very low among those with a college degree," Senator Coons said. "Now more than ever, amid intensifying global competition and rapidly changing technology, it's critical that young people not only finish high school, but pursue some kind of education after high school. American Dream Accounts are a way to strengthen the ability of teachers, parents, mentors, and students to work together to make sure that young people, throughout their entire education experience, prepare for, save for, train for, and then fulfill a vision for their own future -- a dream for their life after high school."
The American Dream Accounts Act encourages partnerships among schools, colleges, non-profits and businesses to develop secure, Web-based student accounts that contain information about academic preparedness, financial literacy and high-impact mentoring and would be tied to a college savings account. Instead of approaching these threads independently, this bill connects students, parents and teachers across silos, and takes a small but significant step toward helping more at-risk students of all income levels access, afford and complete a college education.
The American Dream Accounts Act authorizes the Department of Education to award three-year competitive grants to local partnerships that:
* Create American Dream Accounts (ADAs), personal online accounts for low-income students that monitor higher education readiness and include a college savings account. ADAs would follow students from school to school and through college. Parents would grant vested stakeholders (including counselors, teachers, coaches, mentors, and others) access to the account to update student information, monitor progress, and provide college preparatory support.
* Open college savings accounts for students. Every ADA would include a college savings account for each student. Grantees that can provide these accounts with seed money would be prioritized. Funds from the grant could not be used to seed the college savings accounts.
* Support college readiness by securely monitoring students' progress online. Academic and behavioral information, including grades and course selections, progress reports, and attendance and disciplinary records would be available for review in an ADA, which would also provide opportunities to learn about financial literacy, prepare for college enrollment, and identify skills and career interests.
* Collect data about effective ways to assist high-risk students in planning for college through a comprehensive monitoring and reporting system.
"Although it comes with no new cost to taxpayers and is not a very large authorization," Senator Coons said, "ADAs actually have very large potential to connect parents, teachers, mentors and communities across silos to answer one of the biggest un-met challenges in our country. How can we get more Americans to think about, save for, and prepare for education after high school, so that they can go trade school, community college, or four-year colleges or universities?"
Early investment is key. Sixty-seven percent of Delaware high school students graduate, and the rate drops dramatically in minority communities, with only 57 percent of Hispanic students and 59 percent of African American students earning a high school diploma. American Dream Accounts can help close that gap by giving students motivation and support early on, including the knowledge that scholarships, Pell and SEED grants will be there to support them after high school.
"Simply put, it connects existing silos of information about how students can save for college, how students are doing in school, career awareness programs, and post-high school education and training support programs," Senator Coons said. "Using the strength of modern social media tools and the power of compound interest, it helps get parents, teachers, and students aware of and planning for, and saving for college at a very early age."
"This concept was inspired by my own experience working with the "I Have a Dream Foundation,' both running a local chapter in Wilmington and, later, working with the national organization," Senator Coons said. "That organization made a profound impact on low-income children who had family experiences where there was no expectation of college. Kids simply grew up without the frame of reference. "I Have a Dream' got them to move from likely being high school dropouts to being college applicants and college graduates. I tried to learn from that experience and distill the most common elements from those successful programs. The big difference between today and 10 or 20 years ago, when those programs were starting up, is the incredible power and availability of social networking tools and the availability of college savings programs in virtually every state. This legislation takes advantage of both."
Last month, Senator Coons convened two roundtable meetings of key experts and education leaders in Delaware and Washington. The meetings allowed for the Senator to get feedback on the American Dream Accounts concept and explore ideas for strengthening the legislation.
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