In Oakland, Building Pathways for Workforce Success

In Oakland, California, Mayor Libby Schaaf has a vision for the future of her city: to ensure every child graduates from high school with the expectations, resources and skills to complete college and be successful in the career of his or her choice.

That’s why—like other cities across the country—Mayor Schaaf and the city have made children’s savings accounts (CSAs) and the College Promise program central components of the Oakland Promise program.  The program includes $500 in college savings account for Oakland’s Medicaid-eligible newborns, a pledge of $100 per year in college funding for every K-12 student in the city; and multi-year scholarships for college.

[Register now for a webinar on city-led CSAs and help the children in your community, especially low-income children, build dedicated savings for postsecondary education.]

The Challenge and the Opportunity

By 2020, an estimated two-thirds of job openings will require postsecondary education or training, according to the U.S. Department of Education. A strong economic base in a city is no longer possible when residents lack some form of postsecondary credential, whether it’s a certificate, apprenticeship, two- or four-year degree or career technical education.

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that on average over a lifetime:

  • A high school dropout can expect to earn $973,000,
  • A high school graduate can expect to earn $1.3 million,
  • A worker with some college but no degree will earn approximately $1.5 million,
  • An Associate degree holder will earn about $1.7 million;, and
  • A bachelor’s degree recipient can expect to earn $2.3 million.

Yet many residents face insurmountable barriers to amassing the dollars necessary to cover the cost of college tuition and other needed resources to remove financial barriers to gain their postsecondary credentials.  Therefore, removing barriers to postsecondary attainment is an economic imperative.

It makes sense that helping young people succeed in their post-secondary endeavors leads to economic growth.  Mayors, councilmembers and other local leaders have an enormous opportunity to grow their economy by helping to remove financial barriers to postsecondary and workforce success. CSAs and College promise programs are two promising city strategies.

Starting Early: Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs)

Many city leaders are realizing that saving for postsecondary education must start early.  Research has shown that a low- to moderate-income child with a savings account—even if that account holds less than $500—is three times more likely to enroll in college and four times more likely to graduate than a child without an account.

Cities like San Francisco; Boston; Columbia, South Carolina; St. Louis, Missouri; and Caldwell, Idaho and many more have established CSA programs that provide children’s savings accounts for children.

These programs either set up accounts maintained by the city or connect children to their state’s 529 savings program.  Financial education and whole family engagement to encourage savings contributions are an important component of CSA initiatives to ensure success throughout the child’s educational journey.

College Promise Campaigns

While CSA programs provide an important first start, they are unlikely to cover growing college tuition and other costs associated with post-secondary education.

Local elected officials, in partnership with key cross-sector stakeholders, are addressing this challenge by leading College Promise programs in their cities. City leaders are partnering with two- and four-year colleges, chambers of commerce, foundations and other philanthropic entities, school districts, non-profit and labor leaders to raise money to cover the cost of tuition fees, student support services and to establish policies that will have long-lasting effects.  Some local elected officials have also established free college programs in cities.  Currently, there are over 300 College Promise programs in cities located in 44 states.

[For more information about Children’s Savings Account (CSAs) contact Heidi Goldberg at and for more information about Postsecondary and Workforce Success contact Audrey Hutchinson at]

Cities like Oakland have realized that connecting CSAs with College Promise programs offer the best chances of helping young people succeed in their education and careers.  For Mayor Schaff, this goes a long way toward solving what she believes is her most pressing issue as mayor—to “create conditions for your children to grow into successful adults who are self-sufficient, who are prepared for life, community, and career.”

About the Authors:

heidi_goldberg_125x150Heidi Goldberg is the Director for Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Heidi on Twitter at @GoldbergHeidi.




Audrey M. Hutchinson, MSc., MPH is the Director of Education and Expanded Learning at the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.