A Maytree Report by May Wong and Sheila Murray
This report outlines a number of specific recommendations on how service providers and government can improve low-income families’ access to federal government education savings programs. Even modest savings can encourage these students to pursue post-secondary education, by helping them overcome the high costs of tuition and by encouraging them to perceive that post-secondary education is within their reach.
The federal government has developed a number of tools as part of the Canada Education Savings Program to encourage saving for education. These include:
- Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP)
- Canada Education Savings Grant (CESG)
- Canada Learning Bond
However, low-income families are not aware of these tools because there is too little information in places where theycould easily find it, such as schools and community organizations and libraries. There is also little information in languages other than English and French – a significant barrier to those low-income families that are newcomers to Canada.
The paper outlines a number of specific recommendations on how service providers can share more accurate information savings tools and how government can improve the administrative process.
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Recommendations of the Report
Increasing the participation of low-income families in the Canada Education Savings Program can achieve dual goals: 1) increase the likelihood of post-secondary participation by low-income youth; and 2) increase the financial engagement and proficiency of their parents. Most immediately, it would ensure that the Canada Learning Bond delivers the benefits it was designed to provide to the almost 900,000 low-income children who are currently not being reached. Building on the existing determination of parents for their children’s education, these results are within our grasp. But realizing them requires that all those who interact with low-income families take full advantage of opportunities to raise awareness, share information and support families’ success as they work to achieve their education goals.
Provide families with accurate RESP information in their own communities and languages
1. Service providers, including hospitals, daycares, schools, benefits administrators, and settlement workers, should inform themselves about basic RESP facts, including where to find unbiased product information, in order to better act as an information resource for families.
2. Service providers should inform themselves about the Canada Learning Bond and encourage low-income families to secure it for their eligible children.
3. Service providers should only provide unbiased, non-commercial information to their clients. Service providers should visit, and encourage their clients to visit, websites that provide unbiased information.
4. Service providers should encourage their clients to get a social insurance number for their children and open an RESP in order to, at a minimum, receive the Canada Learning Bond which can total $2,000 without parental contributions.
Make it easier for low-income families to start an RESP that suits their needs
5. The Canadian Securities Administrators should require group scholarship plans to provide consumers with brief (two-page), plain-language summaries of their group plan products, clearly outlining the costs, risks, performance and restrictions associated with each plan.
6. The federal government and RESP providers should simplify and consolidate application forms to avoid enrolment missteps and missed incentives.
7. The federal government should explore the feasibility of an automatic enrolment process for the Canada Learning Bond.
8. Provincial and municipal government agencies that administer income support or other financial benefit programs such as childcare subsidies, housing support, etc. for low-income families should identify opportunities to encourage eligible families to secure the Canada Learning Bond.
About May Wong and Sheila Murray
May Wong is Executive Director of the Omega Foundation which designed and leads the SmartSAVER education savings initiative. Wong is a leader in strategic giving who has worked with and advised public and private foundations in effective granting for almost 20 years. Prior to joining Omega, she was Vice-President, Community Initiatives of the Toronto Community Foundation. She also created and managed grant programs at the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Wong has advised public policy and sector planning on environmental, arts and child development issues. She is a member of the board of directors of the Canadian Urban Institute and Diaspora Dialogues and is a member of the Steering Committee of the Environics Institute’s Urban Aboriginal Peoples’ Study.
Sheila Murray is a writer and documentary filmmaker with an MA in Immigration and Settlement Studies. With SmartSAVER, Murray creates multi-media tools to engage low-income families in RESP learning and is documenting the extraordinary stories of parents who are overcoming significant financial barriers to make post-secondary education a reality for their children.
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