In 1949, when she was 14 years old, Claudia Coger dropped out of high school. Despite being an A+ student and having skipped two grades, she knew that college was out of reach—she was the second of 10 kids, growing up in Sumter County, Florida, and there was no indication, she says, that scholarships would be available to her. It’s a reality for too many kids: Students from low-income families are 2.4 times more likely to drop out of high school than those from middle-income families, and 10 times more likely than students from high-income families, which affects how much they can earn out of school and contributes to the racial wealth gap.
Now 85, Coger is helping ensure that kids in the Astoria Houses, the public housing complex in Astoria, Queens, where she’d lived since moving to New York at 20, don’t have to make that same choice. Coger helmed a fundraising effort to give the 184 kindergarten, first, second, and third graders in that complex $1,000 toward savings accounts for their college education or career training.
That $1,000 is added to savings accounts those students already have through NYC Kids Rise, a nonprofit that runs the Save for College program. That program, in partnership with the City of New York and the Department of Education, sets up kindergarteners with college and career savings accounts invested in the NY 529 plan—a state-run investment account dedicated solely to paying for post-secondary education—and kicks those accounts off with initial $100 scholarships. According to the nonprofit’s preliminary projections, the average student enrolled in the program will have about $3,000 in their accounts by the time they graduate from high school.