INDEPENDENCE-- It's not the amount of money but the thought behind it and the statement it makes about educational possibilities.
That's what Cuyahoga County Ed FitzGerald's saying about a program he announced Friday to give every new kindergartener in public , private schools and those who are homeschooled $100 in a college savings account.
"With the launch of the Cuyahoga County Savings Account Program, every child in our area will grow up knowing that college is a real and attainable goal...This is a critical investment in our children," he said.
Cuyahoga will be the only county with such a program. And it's three times larger than the present biggest effort run by the city of San Francisco.
FitzGerald believes the universal program is more valuable than offering a fixed number of full scholarships.
Local educators and business people are enthused about the program.
Notre Dame College Vice President Dave Armstrong said," Having the aspiration to go to college is so key in developing any young person.,,,And it creates discipline to save money and do the things you need to do to have great goals in life.
Margaret Lyons, Superintendent of Cleveland Diocesan schools said, " Children are impressionable...what a wonderful thing to give them an idea about their future...I think it helps their self esteem. I believe it will make a difference."
Research shows for the first time, students today are less likely to graduate from college than their parents. Less than one of every ten low-income students completes college by their mid 20s.
The city of San Francisco started a similar program donating $50 per child two years ago.
Studies show students with savings accounts are four times more likely to go to college than those who don't have them, and six times more likely if the account's in their name.
Andrea Levere, president of the Corporation for Enterprise Development says, "Cuyahoga County is positioning itself as a national leader in the rapidly growing field of asset building for children."
The program starts next fall. The money can be used for any post high school education including vocational classes and community colleges and universities.
At Metro Catholic School in Cleveland, parents of pre-schoolers in line to become kindergarteners soon were enthused about the plan.
Carmen Harris said, " It shows them they can better their future. It'll give kids a learning experience they can do something for themselves."
Nikki Colon said, "It's giving you a head start opening eyes. College , that'll be here in the blink of an eye."
The county is considering more deposits at educational milestones, such as graduating from elementary or middle school.
With administrative costs, the total annual expense is estimated to be between $2 million and $3 million.
Cuyahoga County's program will cover public, private and home schooled kindergartners.
Education is one of the charter-mandated agenda items for the new Cuyahoga County government.
FitzGerald said there will be more announcements later this year or early next year about foundations and donors contributing to the initiative.