The cost of college is increasing exponentially and many would-be students are being pushed out because—even with scholarships—they just can’t afford it. To lighten this burden, community organizations and postsecondary institutions are looking to increase the amount of money that students can contribute to their education by leveraging existing scholarship funds as their non-Federal funding source for an AFI Education IDA, effectively multiplying the amount of scholarship funds available to students. Let’s take a look at three creative AFI grantees that are using this approach: College Now Greater Cleveland, the Race for Education, University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University.
College Now Greater Cleveland of Cleveland, Ohio has been helping students pursue education opportunities for more than 40 years, including awarding $2.3 million in scholarships each year. College Now received their first AFI grant in 2009, allowing them to effectively quadruple the amount of scholarship funding per student for those who participate in College Now’s AFI program by saving their own earned income towards their education. So far, 54 students have used their AFI funds for education opportunities, including some that are not covered by many traditional forms of scholarships and aid, such as studying abroad and summer courses – the latter allowing students to complete their education earlier.
The Race for Education (RFE) of Lexington, Kentucky, was established in 2002 to provide scholarships and educational resources to students who grew up in or who are pursuing education for jobs in the equine industry. Currently utilizing their third AFI grant, RFE leverages their existing scholarship offerings with AFI funds, which means that students can receive up to eight times the amount they save. Specifically, students can save up to $500, and are matched with $4,000 of AFI and RFE funds, for a total of $4,500 towards a student’s education! RFE’s AFI program has already benefited over 140 students, in particular those who are in veterinarian programs, which typically have higher than average costs.
In the State of Arizona, three new AFI grants are being administered by the Live the Solution, a statewide nonprofit, for the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University. Match funds come directly from the schools’ own scholarship funds and, together with AFI funds, add up to $4,000 to each students’ savings. These Universities tap into their statewide infrastructure and relationships with high schools to enroll students suited for AFI; the first cohort of students under these AFI grants will be starting their college education this fall. Of this cohort, 85% are minorities, and 57% are pursuing degrees in STEM fields.
If your organization is interested in developing their own AFI program to leverage scholarship funds, look to the following lessons learned by these AFI grantees. First, find ways to reach students who are ready to save and participate in AFI. All grantees who have developed this model noted that their most successful participants are those who had already demonstrated their commitment to their education and to saving. To that end: one grantee requires students to complete their financial education before opening their IDA, another offers the scholarships only when the student is in their junior year in college, and two make direct efforts to involve the parents of younger students.
Another lesson learned is that to encourage success, grantees should routinely monitor participants and send reminders when needed. All grantees noted the importance of good tracking systems, which are used to remind students when deposits are due or if they still need to complete a financial education requirement. These reminders are key to the strategies for two of the grantees, who even offer these reminders through text messages and other means in order to be more accommodating to the students that they are serving.
Each of these programs has leveraged AFI funds to offer scholarships that were between four and eight times the amount students saved, providing access to higher education to low-income students that they might not have had otherwise. Programs using this model are substantially lowering college loan debt for participants and providing financial education that will last a lifetime. If you have questions about this exciting program model, or are interested in more information, please contact the AFI Resource Center at 1-866-778-6037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.