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In an effort to improve college affordability and access for low-income students, some legislators are looking to the internet.

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), who represents the second congressional district, which includes Penn, introduced the American Dream Accounts Act of 2012 in the House of Representatives last month.

Under the bill, the Department of Education would distribute $3 million to establish online American Dream Accounts to help low-income students track their college readiness and monitor progress over time. The bill would also pair each of these accounts with a savings account in the student’s name.

“These online accounts will both nurture the dream and support the reality of college aspirations for young people who may not have realized that higher education is within reach,” Fattah said in a statement.

Graduate School of Education professor Laura Perna said the bill could address some of the existing barriers to higher education, including “the ability to pay for college, academic readiness, having information about both finances and academics and having support from others.”

Because Penn has a “relatively small share of students from low-income families,” the bill is more likely to be pertinent to students applying for less selective colleges and universities, including community colleges, Perna said.

The American Dream Accounts Act is supported by a number of educational nonprofits, including the Knowledge Is Power Program, a national network of college-preparatory public schools. KIPP’s support of the bill was spearheaded by 1991 College graduate Michael Feinberg, a cofounder of the organization.

“America has lten-fold ‘college completion gap’ between children from high and low-income families,” KIPP Director of Public Affairs Steve Mancini wrote in an email.

“Encouraging the creation of [a] savings account is one key element in a comprehensive plan to increase college completion rates for underserved students.”

Another nonprofit that supports the bill is the “I Have A Dream” Foundation, which has collaborated with Penn’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy and now helps low-income children achieve higher education.

“Typically, people overestimate the cost of college to themselves and think it may be something they could never afford,” said Lori Donoho, a managing director of Training and Support for the foundation. “[The bill] helps to put in the aspiration where there may not have an aspiration there already.”

One of the motivations for the American Dream Accounts Act was the load currently put on guidance counselors at low-resource schools. A report by the American School Counselor Association found that the national average student-to-counselor ratio in the 2007-2008 school year was 467-to-1.

“What kind of meaningful relationship can a counselor have with 450 students at once?” Donoho said. The bill steps in to “connect folks with resources that may not be available in their schools just because of sheer volume.”

The American Dream Accounts Act is cosponsored in the Senate by senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).

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