Friday, June 3, 2011

A (very special) College Fund

If you watched the NBC Nightly News on Wednesday, June 1st, you heard the story of a boy, La’Shaun Armstrong, just 10 years old, who survived a very tragic accident in which his mother drove a van carrying him and his three siblings into the Hudson river. La’Shaun was able to escape via a car window and swim for help. Tragically, his mother and siblings were dead by the time help arrived. But if you watched that broadcast, you also heard that the Ray Lewis Foundation and United Athletes Foundation (UAF) recently organized a fund-raising event to provide La’Shaun with counseling and a college scholarship and how athletes involved with the foundation have rallied to support La’Shaun.

I am going to put on my economist’s hat to talk first about college funds. Over the past decade, tuition and fees at four-year public colleges and universities have increased more rapidly than they did during the 1980s or 1990s, rising by an average of nearly 5 percent each year (adjusted for inflation). With this trend unlikely to abate, an average American family with children can expect to dedicate a sizable share of their resources to paying college tuition. However, according to the FINRA Financial Capability Study, well below half—41 percent—of those who have financially dependent children have set money aside for college educations. And even those who have set money aside may not have done it in the most tax-savvy way. Only 33 percent of those who have set aside money for college educations have used a tax-advantaged savings account such as a 529 Plan or a Coverdell Education Savings Account.

But with the costs of college increasing so fast, planning for children’s education is critically important and may be the deciding factor in whether children will be able to go to the college of their choice or even to attend college at all. And with wages diverging so widely for workers with and without a college degree, not having that degree may mean a lifetime of low and stagnating wages. Building a college savings fund may be not only the best investment for the children’s future but also a way to inspire children to go to college. Of course, starting early is the key to build up savings: one dollar put aside today at an interest rate of 5 percent will more than double 15 years down the road. It is great that the foundations helping La’Shaun have thought about a college fund for him.

But let me now return to this story without my economist’s hat. As Albert Camus would say, life has its way of being tragic, and those frigid waters changed La’Shaun’s life instantly and dramatically. His is a story of incredible survival and resilience. Still, a kid of that age needs more than financial support. I had the opportunity to meet La’Shaun in New York at the recent event organized by the UAF. He is a shy kid with a tenderness in his eyes, and on meeting him, you can hardly resist giving him a hug. And a big hug he got from, well, a very big guy (you can see pictures of those strong hugs along with the full NBC story here: ). Ray Lewis and the UAF have committed not just to establishing a college fund but to being the mentors, the family, of this very special kid. In the words of La’Shaun, Ray Lewis is “like an older brother to me.” Reggie Howard, the president of UAF, has made La’Shaun part of the players’ families.

When asked what they aim to do for La’Shaun, Ray Lewis stated it succinctly. His hopes are “to achieve much more than what his situation offered.” There is early indication that what they are doing is working. When asked what he wants to do when he grows up, La’Shaun responded without hesitation: “I’m not sure yet.. First, I have to finish college.”

If you want to donate to this very special college fund, see the link below.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this follow-up story. I had wondered what would happen to this little boy who has known such tragedy.

Sabrina Lamb said...

Hi Anna,

As the Founder/CEO of the, a non-profit dedicated to the financial education of New York City's underserved youth, ages 7 - 18; I find your blog to be thoughtful and enlightening.

Continue To Walk Good,

Sabrina Lamb

Sabrina Lamb said...

Hi Anna,

As the Founder/CEO of the, a NYC non-profit dedicated to the financial education of underserved youth, ages 7 - 18, I find your blog to be thoughtful and informative.

Continue To Walk Good,