DES MOINES, Iowa - Where you want to go to college might not be the first thing on your mind when you're in kindergarten. Thanks to a collaboration between a nonprofit and a Des Moines elementary school, that might change.
The Des Moines "I Have a Dream Foundation" has teamed up with Findley Elementary School to start a personal college savings account for every student. These accounts will be managed by the foundation and the 342 students at the school will be the beneficiaries. Each student can earn up to $200 per year for their account, depending on how well they do academically, and if their parents participate in parent-teacher conferences. From kindergarten to graduation, a student has the potential to earn up to $2,600 toward their college education.
"There's some great research from the University of Kansas, that shows students with just $500 in a college savings account are four-times more likely to graduate college," said Emily Hamilton, Executive Director of the Des Moines 'I Have a Dream Foundation'. "So we really feel like it's sending a very strong message, that these kids are dreamers, they can achieve, and they are worth the investment we as a community are making here."
The foundation works with Des Moines schools in neighborhoods where graduation rates are lower than average. Hamilton said she hopes this program can help transform the community. And while the money in these accounts must be used for a college education, it doesn't just apply to a traditional four-year degree.
"College, for us, means Drake, or Grandview, or DMACC, or Iowa State, or any type of vocational training program," she said. "Whatever will help them be successful and help them gain that economic independence."
These students aren't even in middle school yet, but college is already on their minds.
"I don't know what college I'm going to go to yet, but I'm thinking about it," said Sarai Dominguez, a fifth-grade student at Findley. "I want to be an artist. Maybe if I didn't go to college, I wouldn't have that big chance to get into art. But if I do go to college, I think I'm going to have that big chance."
A big chance to achieve big dreams. And small, but significant, steps to get there.
"Des Moines is very blessed - we are number one in all sorts of metrics, and we get a lot of national press for that," Hamilton said. "But we lose a thousand kids a year from dropping out of school - just in Des Moines. That's incredible. And if that continues, I think it's going to be really for us as a community to maintain that momentum that we've done so much with, in the next 15 to 20 years."