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When it comes to producing college graduates, the Cleveland area in Ohio trails the rest of the country. Cuyahoga County executive Ed Fitzgerald says the area also has higher than average poverty. “And those things are not unrelated,” he says. “So we felt we needed to do something dramatic to try to create a real culture of college attendance.”

So, starting next fall the county will set aside $100 for every one of its kindergartners. That’s nearly 15,000 public, private and parochial school students. Similar programs exist in San Francisco and Mississippi. Fitzgerald says Ohio’s $2-3 million dollar program will be the largest of its kind in the country.

Research shows a college savings account can actually change a family’s aspirations. William Elliott, an assistant professor at the University of Kansas, has found that students with savings are about four times more likely to go to college. When that savings account is in their own name, they’re seven times more likely.

“They tend to have a better sense of control over things, and it helps them engage in school more because they see college then as being open,” Elliott says.

That first $100 won’t cover much tuition. But if parents contribute $5 or $10 a week, it could add up to thousands by graduation. Elliott says even a very small nest egg increases motivation.

 

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Follow Amy Scott at @amyreports