Child Development Accounts / 529 College Savings Plans: Clint Kugler

October 8, 2015

Clint Kugler, Chief Executive Officer, Wabash County YMCA / Promise Indiana

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Below is a full transcript of this video presentation. It has not been edited or reviewed for accuracy or readability.

Clint Kugler: I got goosebumps after that presentation. That’s fantastic. Triangulation of data. So, we’ve heard some things today and we have the elements that have been the foundation of this field. And we have some other smart people in the field that have talked about hope. Today Willie talked about tangible hope. I can’t tell you how many thousands of people I’ve shared Michael Sherraden’s “Assets are hope in a concrete form.” And then you get into Jim Clifton’s work around, hope is a better predictor of success than test scores and attendance. Hope is not easy to be built, but it can be done. But only on the local level. Now, some of you federally minded folks had that, might be an alarm trigger. Systems and federal change is absolutely required. But if we want to tap into the local capacity to create change, culture change, opportunity change, local level must be engaged. I’m Clint Kugler. I’m with Promise Indiana. I’m just going to spend a few minutes sharing with you feature and elements and then some of the learnings. And hopefully this is of benefit to you today.

Our program uses the 529 platform. The 529 Platform provides, we’ve worked with a census to create a streamlined enrollment process that we integrate within local school districts instead of a, maybe a 25 minute process, it becomes a three minute process. And it gives us an immediate touch point to families to plant that seed of hope. When we hand that child and family a certificate that says, “Congratulations, You have a college savings account!” And Parkview Health is putting the first 25 dollars in it. We give that child a certificate and they look up at the adult with them and they say, “I have 25 dollars.” And we say, “Yeah. And you’re going to get more.” Community invested dollars. We’re not using any tax dollars for our incentives. This is philanthropic grant based work in eight different counties. And in order to protect donor intent and community investments we work to create a mass account that the families can see integrated into the statements. And the families don’t have access to be able to draw down on those funds or misappropriate those funds.

Several times we’ve taught, you’ve heard today about the Champion Process and the Community Engagement. I’m just going to pose a question to you. If you had a five, six, or seven year old who you’ve seen in the neighborhood, or at church, or as your nephew or niece and they came up and said, “I want to be a dolphin trainer when I grow up. This is what I want to be when I grow up. Would you give me five dollars for my college savings account so that I can become that?” How many of you would say, “No.”? That’s what I thought. And if you do, we can talk about that later and connect you with some services. This whole social entrepreneurship really affected how we approached the work. We don’t look at these kids and these families within the communities as passive beneficiaries but yet active participants in charting their own successful path towards their future. And so we want to set a system that celebrates kids that helps them identify, who are the people in their life that are going to help them be successful. If there’s gaps in that circle, let the community fill those gaps. Expose them to things outside of their bubble. And then turn them loose to entrench that belief that they can go onto education beyond high school.

This piece about the 529 that was very, very attractive to us is we knew on a local level we did not have the capacity to handle the distribution of these funds in 10, 13 years. 529s have that existing capacity. And if we can make the innovations and the changes and the tweaks to make 529s more accessible then that was a very good platform option for us. There’s ongoing innovations. And I often use this whole snapshot piece. When you take a snapshot you catch what’s going on in that moment. But you miss the immediately following happenings. And in this field that is such a rapidly growing and rapidly expanding. And the innovation is ongoing by the people in this room. There’s change happening. And so it’s important not to just take a snapshot view of the 529.

We’re currently working with partners on national, state, and local level around items like, families without social security numbers and how to be able to, to handle that within the 529 context. Tax benefits for donors who support CSA work. When you have a non-profit owned 529 and they support that, there’s the tax benefit from a federal perspective but is there an opportunity to also then have them as an individual donor into a 529 tap into state tax credit dollars? 529, the enrollment process, so much to learn by these models. Colleen in Maine has the check box at birth. What can we learn from there? And even though we have an improved efficient enrollment piece, could we learn and adapt and innovate that within a school base as well? And so there’s innovation within that.

And then, the last piece about the innovation that’s happening locally that we’re very excited about in the coming months, hope to be able to share is the early scholarship distribution. In the state of Indiana 300 million dollars of college scholarships are held by community foundations. Those are carrots at the end of the path. Helping community foundations rethink when those carrots are distributed linked to behaviors that will promote that child’s success, engagement, growth, excitement, and hope. And prepare the families with the knowledge about how the FAFSA and scholarship opportunities, how that game is played before 80 percent of the decisions have been made is something that we believe that early scholarship distribution is, is capable of create change. And we’re working with that. And the power of community is when you have things that work they have the community trust. They have the community, the philanthropic expertise to be able to generate funds, bring people together, and endow those so the in perpetuity, we have streams of revenues into college savings that have not been there before.

There’s the few learnings, and I’ll be brief with these. We’re stronger together. We have benefited so much by the folks in this room that have been in this work. And we want to also pay that forward. There’s resources outside of here that are packets about our work and about the research and our website. All of the tools that we use with classroom integrated activates that students are going through prior to visiting the University campus are online and available for free. All of the forms that we have developed with the census to demonstrate how to do a streamline enrollment process into a 529 are available and much other things.

Also I’d highlight and thank you to Marine from the St. Louis Fed. In the spring of ’15 the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank published an article about the work. And they’ve made copies available of that. Demonstrating that we’re able to, from a community driven perspective, not just bring families with significant high incomes but increase family engagement with 529s both with low, moderate, and high income families. When we started this work only six percent of our kids in Wabash County had a college savings account through 529. We moved that needle to now six grade levels with between 70 and 80 percent of those students having a 529. We did not have a 94 percent poverty rate. This is not just a low income issue. When we look at the debt crises we need to be addressing low income, moderate income. We need to be activating it because of the bandwidth of families is so tapped out that they don’t take the important steps that are needed. And so that’s a systems piece and that’s also the scope of where we have the opportunity to make a difference.

Community driven state support. Systems are needed. I won’t spend there. Systems on a state and a federal level are so critical. But they need to be people centered systems that tap into communities so that they can bring the resources that, and the understanding of their population base. The last piece and I think is one that struggled in the field is this idea of scaling a high touch model. High touch model, we’re integrated in the schools. We’re doing lessons on the classroom. We’re putting all of these Kindergarten to third grade students on a university campus. We’re turning them loose. We’re collecting resources on a local level and then depositing those into 529s. We can’t tell another community what to do. But we have had some success in flipping this so that communities are saying, “Can we do this work?” They’re coming with the desire. They are doing the leg work to build coalitions that have the readiness to do it and do it well. And so we’ve been able to activate eight different communities. We have 24 additional communities that are pursuing the activation of this work in the coming years. This year we’ve worked with 78 elementary schools.

My last point about this is about the different programs. And this is a personal piece, is that often we get focused on what we’re doing and that puts the emphasis in the wrong spot. The emphasis of these different programs that we’ve heard from today are not the end. They are the means to the end. And we have to create ways where people bring their passion points to drive this work. The CSA becomes the vehicle by which community can be changed, cultures changed, lives are changed. But it only happens when it’s not about just what we’re doing. It’s about other people’s passions and other people’s desires that this shows up as a solution to where they’re trying to go. So, thank you so much. And, yeah.

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