Sandy Baum
Senior Policy Analyst
The College Board

Ann S. Coles
Senior Advisor
College Access Programs

Inger Giuffrida
Assets Alliance

Tim Christensen
College Access and Success

Patricia McDonough
University of California,
Los Angeles

Arnold Mitchem
Council for Opportunity in Education

Kimberly Pate
Vice President, Strategic Partnerships & Business Dev.

Leslie Parrish
Senior Researcher
Center for Responsible Lending

Jill Wohlford
Senior Knowledge Mgmt & Program Officer
Lumina Foundation for Education

Woody Widrow
Executive Director





The overarching goal for this three year research project is to increase IDA use for educational purposes and to increase higher education’s involvement with IDAs. We will do this by talking to IDA practitioners, real and potential postsecondary institutions and nonprofits currently partnering, and higher education leaders. In these meetings we will access the opportunities and challenges of partnering to offer IDAs and brainstorm what is needed to make IDAs successful.

Highlight the links below to review a background of IDAs, an overview of our research (interviews, case studies, and focus groups), funding, and how and where we are disseminating our data.


Research Overview

Project Funding



We have all become familiar with the increasing financial costs to attending higher education, and the mounting debt loads students are expected to acquire. Grant aid has failed to keep pace with family and student’s financial need as federal support for grants and subsidized loans have been sharp decline over the past two decades. The possibility that government will again provide large numbers of need-based scholarships is becoming increasingly unlikely. Unfortunately, this situation impacts low and moderate income families the most. Educational leaders need to look for alternative solutions for low-income students.

It is this challenge that is being addressed through a grant supported by the Lumina Foundation called: IDA-PAYS: Postsecondary Access for Your Success. The research is aimed to bridge two worlds - postsecondary education and the non-profits that offer IDAs - and explore how together they can help low-income students enroll in and stay in higher education. We believe IDAs are part of the search for alternatives as each community finds its own solutions to providing access to postsecondary education for its youth. This project is designed to provide tools for IDA practitioners who want to partner with postsecondary institutions to offer education IDAs. In addition, this project can help educational leaders to identify ways to work with community agencies to provide more support for low income students.

So, what are IDAs and what do IDAs have to do with postsecondary education? IDAs are matched savings accounts that may be state, federally and/or privately supported. An IDA is a financial tool to encourage low-income families to save towards and acquire an appreciating asset, such as homeownership, entrepreneurship and post-secondary education. IDAs were introduced by Michael Sherraden at the Center for Social Development who suggested that a lack of assets, not just income, keeps the poor in a cycle of poverty. Over the years, his research and that of others has shown that poor families can save and build assets if provided institutional supports parallel to incentives available to middle and upper class families - supports like 401Ks that provide employer-match and tax incentives. IDAs took on national recognition when congress funded the American Dream Demonstration through the Assets for Independence Act of 1998. In 2005, CFED estimated that there are between 500 and 1,000 IDA initiatives nationwide.

Organizations that offer IDAs often couple the match incentive with financial literacy education, training to acquire the asset, and critical case management. IDAs expansion can advance access and success in postsecondary education in important ways. Therefore, IDAs offer the promise of not just scholarship funds, but the opportunity to foster critical new life skills and behaviors with respect to financial management, credit and debt -- skills that are crucial to the financial independence of student graduates and working adults. In this way, IDAs lead to lifetime habits of goal-setting, saving, financial management, and asset building that can break the cycle of poverty.

Research Overview

Research Objectives:
The overarching goal for this project is to increase IDA use for educational purposes and to increase higher education’s involvement with IDAs. There are three objectives for the project:

1. Understand the role the IDA initiatives currently play in creating access to college through asset development.

2. Examine the potential of the programs for growth with respect to increasing access to education for low-income students.

3. Explore challenges to and facilitators of growth and expansion of IDA Initiatives within the higher education sector. The study has a program implementation/improvement focus. The project will work with existing IDA activities in order to determine the potential they might have if education as a goal is expanded. We will also examine challenges faced by expansion.

Research Design and Method:
There will be three main activities in order to meet the objectives outlined:

• The research team has conducted interviews with IDA practitioners

• We used data from the descriptive interview studies to identify a set of educational IDA initiatives for case study analysis. We have completed most of our case studies, but more sites keep coming out of the woodwork.

• We are in the process of conducting a series of focus groups with leaders in the IDA Initiative, higher education, and philanthropic communities. See ‘What’s new!’ to view our focus group schedule.

The research team has conducted interviews with IDA practitioners that currently have educationally-oriented IDA Initiatives. This first phase of the research was aimed at understanding current models of university participation (primarily focusing on ways that a university can partner with IDA projects/practitioners) that exist with IDA initiatives, promising practices for developing more university participation in educational IDAs, and existing challenges or barriers. We conducted interviews with approximately 50 IDA practitioners, who were purposefully selected from the IDA networks based on criteria developed by the advisory board to ensure programmatic and regional diversity.

Case Studies:
We used data from the descriptive interview studies in order to identify a set of educational IDA initiatives for case study analysis. We have examined three educational IDA initiatives and are in the process of securing three more case sites in order to develop detailed models for expanding programs and for overcoming challenges. The case studies have examined a variety of issues that can impact promising practices ranging from policies, structures, culture and climate issues, and politics. We have interviewed IDA users to obtain their perspective about the optimal way to structure educational oriented IDAs and understand challenges they face as users and ways IDA practitioners might address these concerns. The focus of the study is on IDA programs though rather than an examination of individual IDA user behavior or experience. Detailed description of case sites will help to make the findings transferable to other settings.

Focus groups:
We have conducted five focus groups and will conduct around 10 more with leaders in the IDA Initiative, higher education, and philanthropic communities. The purpose of the focus groups is to present the various models and practices identified in interviews and to obtain feedback on ways to face current challenges and expand educational IDAs through educational institution partnerships. We will conduct a few focus groups integrating practitioners from all three communities (IDA, higher education, and philanthropic communities) to begin dialogue on this issue. Some topics for the focus groups are: Which promising practices outlined by IDA practitioners can help expand the use of IDAs for higher education? How can universities be better IDA partners? How can IDAs help universities achieve their recruitment, financial aid, and life skill education goals? How can university partners help overcome some of the barriers identified by IDA practitioners? Are public policy changes necessary? What changes within the higher education community are necessary?

Project Funding

The Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis (CHEPA) at USC’s Rossier School of Education was awarded a $530,000 grant from Lumina Foundation for Education for a three-year national study of Individual Development Accounts (IDA). Lumina Foundation, an Indianapolis-based private foundation, strives to help people achieve their potential by expanding access to and success in education beyond high school. Through grants for research, innovation, communication and evaluation, as well as policy education and leadership development, Lumina Foundation addresses issues that affect access and educational attainment among all students, especially underserved student groups such as minorities, students from low-income families, first-time college-goers and working adults. The Foundation believes postsecondary education is one of the most beneficial investments individuals can make in themselves and that a society can make in its people. IDAs have not had widespread use in education, but have great potential in giving low-income students the opportunity to attend and succeed in college.

The grant has three objectives: to understand the role the IDAs currently play in creating access to college through asset development; to examine the potential of the programs for growth with respect to increasing access to education for low-income students; and to explore challenges to and facilitators of growth and expansion of IDAs within the higher education sector.


We have begun to disseminate information about our finding and IDAs in general at conferences and through publications. Below is a list of conferences where we will be disseminating our findings:IHEP:
July 20-24 2008
Birmingham, AL

Assets Learning Conference:
September 11-13 2008 (Powerpoint)
Washington, DC

COE/TRIO 27th Annual Conference:
September 17-20 2008 (Powerpoint & Handouts)
Washington, DC

NCAN Annual Conference:
September 22-24 2008 (Paper)
Houston, TX

ASHE conference:
November 5-8 2008
Jacksonville, FL

AACC conference:
April 4-7 2009
Phoenix, AZ
We plan to use the last year to attend conferences to present our finding and publish documents for both non-profits offering IDAs, postsecondary institutions, and policy papers.


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2002 Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis all rights reserved
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