On April 16, 2021, senators Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) introduced the Earn to Learn Act. The bipartisan legislation aims to make college more affordable and help tackle the nation’s student debt crisis.
Under the Earn to Learn Act, eligible students (including adult learners) receive a matching contribution of $8 for every $1 that the student or their family contributes to an educational savings account. Students can use their matched savings to pay for tuition, fees books and other college expenses. Every dollar a student saves is one dollar less that they will have to borrow in student loans.
Participating states and non-profits will be awarded grants, which will then be used to fund tuition assistance and financial literacy training.
Arizona’s Earn to Learn Program
The program is modeled after Arizona’s existing Earn to Learn program, which has been helping students save for college since 2013. In addition to matched savings for college, Arizona’s program offers scholarships and financial literacy training to low-to-moderate income and under-represented students.
To qualify, Arizona students must meet the eligibility requirements to receive the Federal Pell Grant, and they must complete personal finance training. This includes developing a healthy savings habit by making at least six consecutive deposits totaling $500. Once the a student meets the minimum deposit requirement, thy are eligible for the 8:1 match (maximum $4,000 per year). By meeting these minimum requirements, students will end up with $4,500 per year for college.
The financial literacy component of Earn to Learn is an important one. Other states have matching education grant programs, but not all of them focus on building good savings habits.
“Education was my key to opportunity, and I’m committed to ensuring all Arizona students have the same access to higher education that I did. Creating a college-matched savings program helps Arizona students save for school while teaching the importance of money management,” Senator Sinema said.
The Earn to Learn program is currently only available to students who are Arizona residents and will attend Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, University of Arizona and Pima Community College on a full-time basis. The proposed national program would allow students across the U.S. to attend a college of their choice.
Earn to Learn has been widely successful in Arizona. Students who participate have a first-year retention rate close to 90%, and most graduate with minimal student debt.
Romney and Sinema expect similar results from the national program.
“We must do better to ensure American students have the skills and training necessary to pursue good-paying jobs that keep up with our changing economy,” Senator Romney said. “Our legislation will help students pursue their education by equipping them with the financial resources and knowledge they need to attend college, career, and technical schools without the burden of being saddled with debt when they graduate.”