Barclays is launching an educational initiative, Dream Accounts, to improve college continuation and graduation rates among low-income high school students through virtual mentorship to help students get mentally and financially prepared for college. Dream Accounts will be the first mobile platform that specifically connects peers to help potential college attendees learn about the experience from college students who were recently in their position.
The Dream Accounts initiative originated from discussions with Senator Chris Coons about the American Dream Accounts Act, which is co-sponsored with Senator Marco Rubio. To illustrate the potential of the American Dream Accounts Act, Barclays will build an innovative mobile app to provide a social media-based platform that will connect current college students with current high school students of similar backgrounds, creating a forum for 'teens talking to teens.' Everything from the look and feel to the approach is designed by teens, and the content will be driven by current college students. The mobile app for iPhone and Android will be available for high school students ages 13 years and older, specifically targeting low-income students. The app will create a space for high school students to learn about how to save for college, find financial aid, and prepare a professional resume for their college applications. Key features will include videos and blogs from current college student mentors, a financial dashboard to track a student's savings towards college, and a rewards scheme for students participating in the Dream Accounts community and achieving savings goals towards college.
Additionally, Barclays will also develop a best-in-class savings product with no fees or minimum balance that allows students, as minors, to be the primary account holder and will reward positive savings behavior with a bonus on interest earned. To complement this savings product, Barclays is partnering with the Utah Educational Savings Plan to offer one of the top 529 accounts through the mobile application, which will allow more options for students saving larger amounts for colleges since 529 accounts are education savings plans that have tax-deferred investment growth and tax-free distributions if used for qualifying educational expenses.
Barclays will first launch the app as a pilot in Delaware and partner with Teach for America Delaware and the Delaware Office for Financial Empowerment to provide access to teachers and administrators to participate in the app development process and consulting on curriculum topics. Barclays will be visiting classrooms across the state to introduce the app and sign up students. Barclays will bring designs and trial products to students in Delaware for focus groups, putting the students at the core of the app development. Over the next year, Barclays expects approximately 1,000 Delaware students participating in this pilot program to utilize the mobile app social media functions and 500 of those students to open Dream Accounts with the bank. The pilot will be a testing ground to receive additional feedback from students and further refine the offerings and topics on the application.
Barclays has dedicated two full-time design and development resources to program the application and hired a full-time staff person specifically to manage the project on a day-to-day basis.
Research and development for mobile app: Barclays staff finalize the design and user experience for Dream Accounts and develop programming for the mobile app; Barclays will also begin to enlist mentors who would like to participate, likely through college Student Affairs offices and other partners (July - September 30)
Content development: Barclays has already filmed 40+ college students, creating over 70 videos for the starting content on Dream Accounts (June and July 2013); building relationships across Delaware college campuses, additional mentors will be asked to film videos over the fall semester for the trial phase as Barclays determines how to build a sustainable mentor network; the majority of content will be the experiences of current college students, but where Barclays feels further information needs to be provided, curriculum will be sourced from relevant partners or institutions (August - December 31)
Student focus group feedback: In partnership with Teach for America Delaware and the Delaware Office for Financial Empowerment visit 20 high schools in Delaware (10 classrooms each, ~25 students per classroom = 5,000 students introduced to the product) to soft launch the application, receive feedback from initial student registrants, and program additional features/edits into the application (October - December 31)
Incorporate feedback: Finalize Dream Accounts mobile app and prepare for Delaware statewide launch (January 2014)
Implementation: Continuing visiting schools and assess successes and failures from Delaware pilot to determine best options for scaling within Delaware and potentially to other states (February - August 2014)
Full Launch: Formally launch Dream Accounts application into broader marketplace through iTunes and Google Play stores (September 2014)
Family income is a predictor of post-secondary education attendance and completion. For example, students whose families are in the bottom income quartile have a 70% graduation rate from high school, a 59% college continuation rate, and an 8% bachelor's degree attainment rate. The rates are only marginally improved for students in the second income quartile, who have a 70% continuation rate, but only a 17% college graduation rate. Hence, fewer than one in six low-income students will graduate with a bachelor's degree by the time they are 24 years old, while more than four out of five of their peers in the first income quartile will obtain their degree. A primary reason for dropping out of college among low-income students is often small amounts of money, usually less than $500, according to discussions with many college deans of admission.
Additionally, many mentoring programs, resources, and websites aimed at young people have already been created in an attempt to address the gap in college continuation and graduation rates. However, most all of the resources are adults pushing information to youth, using a tone and language that does not resonate with their target audience. Barclays surveyed more than 1,000 low-income high school students and found that for youth, building trust on their terms is critical to gaining acceptance and getting them to listen. To that end, there is a clear need to effectively educate teens on preparing for the college experience, understanding what to expect, and identifying strategies to build financial savings. Barclays is aiming to help teens create their own safety net before they enter post-secondary education.
Barclays brings a wealth of expertise in providing financial literacy information, building successful savings products, and connecting to a large network of business and government partners, which positions the Bank well to build a mobile app of this nature. Furthermore, Barclays is committed to becoming the 'go-to' bank and helping people achieve their ambitions in the right way. With citizenship at the core of Barclays values, the institution is working to impact five million young people by 2015.
Barclays is continually seeking partnerships from organizations providing curriculum on financial literacy, financial aid, and/or college access. Barclays is interested in partnerships with universities, colleges, and vocational schools who would like to suggest college mentors from their campuses to our network or circulate their schools' materials with our target demographic (i.e., first generation and low-income high school students). Innovative ideas from app developers or advice from other virtual mentoring platforms to improve our product are also welcome. Organizations who interact with Congress and would like to further the support for the American Dream Accounts Act would be ideal partners as well. All of the Dream Accounts partners will be highlighted on the Barclays platform for their contributions and/or mentioned in select press releases or social media outreach.
Barclays will share lessons learned from developing Dream Accounts with interested organizations.