- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Governor-elect Gina Raimondo announced on Wednesday a plan aimed at ensuring that the thousands of children born in Rhode Island every year have savings for college.

She is expanding a program that, since 2010, has provided a $100 contribution to a college savings account to any child born in the state. Only about 400 children are enrolled.

Under the new plan, Raimondo said babies will receive the savings if their parents check a box when they fill out a standard form at the hospital beginning Jan. 1. Before, families had to fill out several pages of forms and open a special account.

Raimondo, the current treasurer, said it has been difficult to enroll children and she wants to “break down the barriers” to higher education. The change could benefit thousands of families, she said, because about 10,000 babies are born in Rhode Island each year.

To turn the state’s economy around and rebuild the middle class, the state needs to ensure people have the skills to get good jobs and employers have a skilled workforce, Raimondo said as she announced the plan at the Community College of Rhode Island in Warwick, Rhode Island.

“From a very young age, we want to encourage kids and parents to start planning for education past high school,” she said.

Rhode Island is one of only three states with college savings programs for children, according to her office.

The state of Maine automatically invests $500 for every baby born in the state for future education expenses. Nevada deposits $50 into a college savings account for all public school kindergarten students.

In Rhode Island, the grant will be held by the Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority in an account until the child is ready to attend an accredited college, vocational school or trade school.

There is no direct cost to Rhode Island taxpayers because the state’s contract for the college savings plan with the investment management company, AllianceBernstein, already calls for $100 to be allocated for every baby, said Faith LaSalle, chairwoman of the board of directors at RIHEAA.

Patricia Roberts, a managing director at AllianceBernstein, said the company offered to give the money because the state asked it to not only manage the investment, but also to broaden awareness about the need to save for college and increase the number of college savings accounts opened by Rhode Island families.

The grant was an incentive to open an account and start saving. Of the families that accepted the offer, 97 percent added money to the account, Roberts added.

LaSalle said that having even a small amount of savings can make people excited about education and improve their chances of academic success.

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