Deborah B. Goldberg
Massachusetts State Treasurer
Since day one of my administration, the Office of Economic Empowerment, the first in the nation, has been a leader in breaking down financial barriers that harm families and threaten our economy.
We know some of the toughest challenges facing students today are rising tuitions and enormous debt. These burdens prevent them from moving through post-secondary school education and skill acquisition in the most timely and cost-effective way. These issues also pose long-term consequences for businesses that rely on highly-skilled employees to grow.
According to Student Loan Hero, U.S. students currently owe more than $1.4 trillion in college loan debt. The average 2016 college graduate, $37,172, up six percent from 2015. Although college graduates in our state owe less than the national average, the figure still remains daunting at an average of $31,466 per student, according to The Institute for College Access and Success.
Online calculators can help parents and guardians understand the higher education price tag, or how much they should set aside by the time their child graduates high school. However, such projections don’t necessarily help them begin saving. That’s why the Office of Economic Empowerment launched SeedMA, a college savings program that provides a seeded 529 account along with the resources and knowledge that families need to start investing early in their children’s future.
We have begun a multi-year pilot program in Worcester and Monson, partnering with the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority. Parents and guardians who enroll their kindergarteners receive a $50 deposit into a 529 college savings account, which can be used for books, tuition, fees, supplies, vocational training, and more. At the same time, we work with these families to help them understand savings, banking, budgeting, and even retirement.
Since our launch, 175 kindergartners have registered for SeedMA. Eleven percent of Worcester families have committed to enroll, with over one percent having completed the process, receiving their $50 deposit; that’s more than five times the national average for low-income families. In Monson, more than half of the kindergarteners have committed to enroll, and 34 percent have completed the process.
Although our Worcester enrollment numbers leave room for growth, we are still pleased with the results so far. We remain committed to working on programs that will create greater participation as we move forward. We know Worcester’s diverse, largely immigrant population is unique – even for Gateway Cities – and existing language and cultural barriers prevent many families from completing the registration process. To address those challenges, we are working with trusted community ambassadors and have translated SeedMA materials into Spanish, Albanian, Arabic, Portuguese, Nepali, Vietnamese, and Twi, some of Worcester’s most spoken languages. We also developed a Spanish website, and we are in the process of hiring more multilingual staff.
Every child deserves the opportunity to further his or her education, and our economy depends on it. Students who attend college and vocational training school gain the skills they need to be successful, and supply the pipeline with the talent businesses demand to fill essential job vacancies.
SeedMA can be a critical resource in ensuring that all people in our state achieve the economic opportunity, economic stability, and economic security they deserve. I look forward to reporting back with more results as we continue expanding this program throughout Massachusetts.