News: Financial Aid

Brilliant Baby Program Builds Savings Into Oakland Promise Continuum of College Access Support

Wednesday, May 15, 2019  
Posted by: Jamese Carrell, Member Services Associate
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Oakland Promise envisions that every child in Oakland graduates from high school with the expectations, resources, and skills to enter and complete college. Launched in 2017, Brilliant Baby is the early childhood program of the Oakland Promise, focused on supporting parents to prepare their infants for success in school.

Brilliant Baby starts by depositing $500 into a 529 college savings account for each child. The 529 college savings plan is an investment that grows over time and is federal and state income-tax free. Brilliant Baby is available to families with babies that are born in Alameda County and who reside in Oakland, are Medi-Cal eligible, under the age of 12 months at time of enrollment and are currently being served by one of nine implementing partners. Implementing partners are organizations made up of infant home visiting and pediatric medical care providers. These partners also promote and enroll babies and families into the program.

The program’s criteria allows Brilliant Baby to serve and focus on economically vulnerable and under-resourced families in the Oakland area. Research shows that 30% of Oakland’s children live in poverty and 35% percent live in households receiving public assistance. This work is critical to the Oakland community’s socioeconomic development and growth.

The program is currently enrolled with 430 babies in the program and reflects the demographics of the Oakland and Alameda County area. The racial makeup of families that participate in the program identify as 50% Latino, 30% African American, and about 8-9% identify as Asian, mixed-raced, or other.

Similar to NCAN member “I Have A Dream” Foundation, Brilliant Baby partners with the nonprofit my529  (formerly the Utah Educational Savings Plan), which has been recognized and highly rated for its flexibility, low fees, design, and infrastructure.

Other features and reasons for this partnership include:

  • There is no minimum deposit required to maintain an account.
  • Families are able to see their own account and their Brilliant Baby CSA, illustrating a big picture of their child’s savings.
  • Oakland Promise is the owner on this account and each Brilliant Baby is designated as a beneficiary.
  • my529 mails quarterly reports to families.
  • Accounts are easily accessible online and have a user-friendly interface.

Additionally, the money in the account becomes available to the when the child enters a qualifying 2- or 4-year college or job training program. The accounts are also portable and does not require the families and student remain in Oakland to keep the account.

Financial Coaching

Brilliant Baby understands that its families are financially stressed. The organization believes that supporting parents by offering a financial coaching and savings program helps reduce financial stress, while supporting parents to reach their personal financial goals and prepare for their child’s college future. 

Parents who participate in the program have the potential to earn, through stipends and a savings match, additional funds to support their financial goals. Here’s the potential earnings breakdown for families who participate in financial coaching:

  • Families can earn a monthly stipend of $100 for the first three months of the financial coaching program and up to $200 to match their personal savings.
  • Families can also earn an $50 additional if they save six months in a row.

Brilliant Baby partners with EARN, a national nonprofit, to implement these incentives.

Brilliant Baby financial coaches are intentionally chosen, as one’s finances can be a sensitive topic. For this reason, coaches come from culturally similar backgrounds of the families served and speak multiple languages, including Spanish. For other languages, interpreters are hired, and coaching happens in small groups. The coaches make the financial coaching experience personal through their one-on-one approach in having private in-person meetings, individualized phone calls, and texting outreach.

Brilliant Baby’s goal by the end of 2021 is to grow its enrollment to 1,500 parents and their babies. Over time, the program hopes to scale to serve all Medi-Cal eligible babies in Oakland. This will require Brilliant Baby to grow the program’s infrastructure and funding efforts.

In comparison to other programs, there are a few things that make Oakland Promise different. “We’re a part of a continuum of support” says Amanda Feinstein, program director for Brilliant Baby. Oakland Promise is not only the home to Brilliant Baby. It’s also home to the following programs:

  • Kindergarten to College (K2C): This initiative’s goal is to help elementary school children develop a college-going identity. K2C provides $100 in early college scholarships to every kindergartner and supports families in opening a 529 college savings plan.

  • Future Centers: are college and career hubs located on middle and high school campuses that provide students with college and scholarship application assistance, technology and access to internships.

  • College Completion and Scholarships: Through East Bay College Fund, Oakland Promise provides support for students to ensure they are able to afford and are socially and emotional ready for college. Multi-year scholarships are awarded to students through this program, along with scholarships through local college partnerships.

Feinstein ends by saying, “Brilliant Baby supports parents’ hopes and dreams for their new baby’s bright future. Parents are thrilled to have money already set aside for their child’s college and feel inspired to prepare their little one for success in school, starting in Kindergarten and extending through college.”

(Photo by Chayene Rafaela on Unsplash)