College affordability is at the forefront of a national conversation. This isn’t a new idea. For decades, elected officials across the United States have been pushing to create programs for college savings with incentives. Yet, like many issues discussed at the national level, it hasn’t happened. Meanwhile, millions of families are struggling to pay for their children’s educations and students are dropping out of college or vocational training programs because they can’t afford it.
Fortunately in Massachusetts we don’t have to wait for Congress to act. The state is laying the groundwork for future generations to attend college and vocational-tech training, $50 at a time.
On Jan. 1, the State Treasurer’s office launched the BabySteps Savings Plan, a statewide post-high school education savings account program that gives every baby born or adopted in Massachusetts a free $50 seed deposit into a 529 college savings account. You just check a box on the birth certificate form to get started.
Fifty dollars might not seem like much, but it goes a long way when you consider that children with a college savings plan are more likely to enroll and graduate from college than those who do not have such a plan. The $50 deposit, in stark contrast with some of the leading national college savings proposals, does not use a single dime of taxpayer money. Funding is provided by private donors through the state’s Economic Empowerment Trust Fund.
There is no singular path for success, and what is right for one child may not be right for another. The beauty of the savings plan is that students can use the money saved toward a four-year college education, a community college degree, vocational and technical training, as well as other educational expenses. The program will initiate access to post-high school education and training, which is vital to economic mobility and stability in Massachusetts.
In addition to the seeded savings account, this program will provide free comprehensive financial education tools and resources for families across the state. People can use these tools, which include pointers on how to pay for college, to continue saving for their children’s future while still paying their bills today.
The launch of this program has been years in the making. At the Treasurer’s Office, we successfully ran two pilot programs — SeedMA and SoarMA — in economically and racially diverse areas of the state. Now we are acting on the valuable lessons learned and devoting significant time and resources to leverage partnerships with local programs like Boston Saves, other trusted community partners, health centers, libraries, and WIC centers to help enroll children in the BabySteps program. These partnerships are crucial to establishing trust within every community. Not only so we can help families save, but also to help parents foster post-high school aspirations in their children.
The BabySteps $50 deposit is an investment in the future — and in our kids, our families, and our Massachusetts economy overall.
Deborah B. Goldberg is the state treasurer and receiver general of Massachusetts.