St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter has asked 30 people to spend seven months studying how to create a college savings account for every child in the city.
Carter is convening a Children's Savings Account Task Force to suss out the details of a citywide program to give every child $50 for college — an idea the mayor floated in his inaugural address. The task force is expected to present recommendations, including when the program could launch, to Carter and the St. Paul City Council in January.
In the four months since Carter took office, he said, his staff has been discussing college savings accounts with local businesses, banks, philanthropic organizations and higher education institutions.
"Frankly, one of our biggest challenges has been harnessing all of the energy that exists around the concept," Carter said in an interview Monday. "The purpose of the task force is to bring all of those conversations together into one conversation that can move fast to help us really flesh out the details of how we fund and implement a children's savings account program here in St. Paul."
The task force will need to figure out basic details, such as the age when a child would receive an account and where the money would come from. The group will meet every other month, with additional subcommittee meetings throughout the year, and take input from colleges, businesses, banks, birth centers, community organizations and other groups, according to a news release from the mayor's office Monday.
"I think the goal is ultimately to create a program that's sustainable, well beyond Mayor Carter's time in office," said Nichol Beckstrand, task force co-chair and Sunrise Banks president.
Cities across the country, from St. Louis to San Francisco, already have college savings account programs. The Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board is working on its own program with the goal of launching accounts next year, and is collaborating with St. Paul, said Executive Director Ann Marie DeGroot.
Existing programs are relatively new, so it's tough to predict whether the children they're serving now will ultimately attend and graduate from college. But there are other ways to measure what's working and what's not, including how many people participate and whether families have started saving for college on their own, said Ann Mulholland, task force co-chair and vice president of community impact at the St. Paul Foundation.
"I think we'll look at a variety of models around the country and see what is working, learn from what isn't working and take, hopefully, the best of those and then hopefully some of our own aspirations and create a design," she said.
Although there's not yet a timeline for when the accounts would open, Muholland said, "if they could be launched by 2020 I think we would be in great shape."