Program overview

  • Removing barriers to college savings: The Early College Planning Initiative (ECPI) is a financial wellness intervention intended to support parents in saving for their children’s college education. Families who participate in ECPI are more likely to start saving for their children’s college education, and to save a larger amount.

  • Providing families with college savings information: Parents participate in ECPI by attending financial planning sessions at their child’s school. ECPI informs parents about the importance of saving for college and introduces them to the 529 plan – a tax-advantaged account that can be used to pay for college. In the same sessions, ECPI assists parents in enrolling in a 529 plan, helping to answer questions about the application process.

  • Financially jumpstarting college savings: A 529 savings plan requires an initial $50 deposit to open an account. ECPI provides families who choose to sign up for a savings plan with the $50 deposit, removing the financial barrier to getting started with the family’s 529 plan.

  • Partnering with public schools: ECPI is administered by a nonprofit that partners with public schools to set up programming for parents interested in learning more about college savings. ECPI targets parents with children in grades 7-10, as these parents have begun considering their students’ futures and still have time to save meaningful funds.

A study with a rigorous design provides some evidence for ECPI as a strategy for increasing savings for postsecondary education.

  • A 2017 randomized controlled trial found that families who received enrollment support and a $50 deposit were about 22 percent more likely to open a 529 savings account than members of a control group. Families in the treatment group were also 7 percentage points more likely to sign up to make automatic monthly contributions.
  • Partner and conduct outreach to build trust: Personal finances are perceived by many as a private matter, leading some families to be wary of participating. ECPI can build buy-in by partnering with trusted community organizations, like schools or libraries, and by publicizing the program through these other trusted community organizations.
  • Provide specific information, and pay the deposit: An evaluation found that programs that provided both application assistance and a deposit were more effective than those that only provided one form of assistance. As such, organizations replicating EPCI should retain both program components.

  • Encourage automatic monthly contributions: Setting up automatic monthly contributions reduces the ongoing effort required for parents to continue saving for their child’s college education. As such, programs should assist parents in setting up automatic deposits when they create their 529 plan. If parents do not set them up day-of, programs should consider sending them follow-up information on how to set up the automatic deductions.