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The News Journal - 'Dream Accounts' Would Be a Boon to United States Education

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By Senator Chris Coons

As parents, we worry so much and work so hard for our children -- for their health, for their safety, and for their future. We all want the best for our kids, so let's consider a few potent statistics. During this long, tough recession, the unemployment rate among high school dropouts was 13 percent, high school graduates 8 percent, but for those with a college degree, it was just 4 percent.

In the new global economy, Americans who do not earn some higher education -- whether community college or a four-year degree -- will, on average, earn a million dollars less in their lifetimes. American employers have, today, thousands of jobs available for those with the right training, but that training is out of reach for too many.

That's why last week I introduced the American Dream Accounts Act of 2012. This legislation encourages partnerships among schools, colleges, nonprofits and businesses to develop secure, Web-based student accounts that contain information about academic preparedness, financial literacy and high-impact mentoring and are tied to a college savings account. Instead of approaching these threads independently, this bill connects students, parents and teachers across these silos. It is a small but significant step toward helping more students of all income levels access, afford and complete a college education.

The journey from elementary school to a high school diploma and higher education is a long one, and students who drop out along the way often do so because those educational experiences are not connected. Schools can be large and anonymous and parents are often stretched too thin in a tough economy. An amazing new generation of social networking technology makes it possible for us to solve those problems. American Dream Accounts are Facebook-inspired, personalized hubs of information that engage students in a powerful new way.

The American Dream Accounts Act recognizes that linking college savings to online accounts is one of the most powerful ways to keep kids focused on the long-term goal. Studies show that students with a dedicated college savings account in their own name are seven times more likely to go to college than their peers without one, so this legislation would help open a savings account for each child, harnessing the power of early seed money and compound interest.

State and federal governments already fund programs to help students afford college. The tragic part is that many kids don't know that money is available until years after they have made choices that knock them out of contention for higher education. American Dream Accounts focus students on the idea that financial support and opportunities are there for them if they make the grades.

My experience working at the national I Have a Dream Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to college access, taught me first-hand how often lower-income students who frequently move or change schools get lost in the system. That's why portability and persistence are essential features of American Dream Accounts.

By utilizing existing Department of Education funds, this legislation comes at no new cost to taxpayers. We are simply building on existing programs and making them more efficient and effective. One of my favorite parts of drafting this legislation was collaborating with those on the front lines of addressing our education challenges in Delaware, including the Delaware PTA, and I'm proud they've endorsed the bill.

Our nation's long-term economic competitiveness requires a highly trained, educated workforce, and we can meet that challenge by connecting students with a broad array of higher education options. Whether it is vocational school, professional training, community college, or a four-year university, this legislation will help students identify the type of higher education they need for the career they want, and give them the tools to get there.

As I've visited schools across Delaware, one thing is clear: When you ask elementary school students what they want to be when they grow up, their answers tend to be the same no matter where they live or their family's income level. Our kids all start out with big dreams. The American Dream Accounts Act of 2012 is a modest, but powerful, bill that empowers students and parents of all backgrounds to achieve those dreams.


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