Encouraging savings to help promote adult learning among low-income Canadians

March 26, 2009
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A new report released today by the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation (SRDC) offers some new results on the effects of the learn$ave project. SRDC is conducting this national demonstration project to test the effectiveness of individual development accounts (IDAs) as a tool to promote adult learning and small-business start-up for low-income Canadians.

SRDC has been testing whether matched saving credits, coupled with financial management training, will provide incentives for low-income Canadians to save in individual development accounts that can be used to invest in their own skills development and education.  Today’s report covers participants’ experiences over their first 40 months in the project and provides intermediate results on how participants’ budgeting, saving activities, and enrolment in educational courses and programs have changed as a result of their participation in learn$ave.

The report indicates that learn$ave has had a positive effect on enrolment in adult education:  “We’re finding that learn$ave did encourage participants to enrol in more education and training, above and beyond what they would have done otherwise,” said Norm Leckie, SRDC project manager.  One of the strongest results recorded was with respect to enrolment in educational programs leading to a certificate or a degree: the matched credits and financial management training increased enrolment in such programs by some 22 percent.

What separates learn$ave from most other IDA programs implemented earlier in Canada and the United States is the presence of a control group containing participants who did not receive credits and other services, which enabled researchers to see what would have happened in the absence of learn$ave. For instance, about four out of five members of the control group, who did not benefit from learn$ave incentives, enrolled nevertheless in some form of education or training over the first 40 months of the project. The difference made by learn$ave should be measured using this counterfactual as a basis for comparison. Using the enrolment rate that prevailed before the introduction of learn$ave would not present an accurate estimate of the differencelearn$ave made.  “We see the value of rigorous and random assignment approaches to separate the real impacts of programs from what happens just through time or experience,” observed Jean-Pierre Voyer, SRDC president.

The largest project of its kind in the world, learn$ave was launched in 2000 in partnership with Social and Enterprise Development Innovations (SEDI), 10 community non-profit organizations across Canada, and financial institutions, with the funding support of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. To evaluate the project, the Department contracted SRDC, a non-profit research organization that specializes in developing, implementing, and evaluating large-scale, long-term demonstration projects to test innovative social policies and programs.

For information on learn$ave

Norm Leckie, SRDC project manager 
613-789-9656 / nleckie@srdc.org 

Jean-Pierre Voyer, SRDC president and CEO
613-237-3169 / jpvoyer@srdc.org 

For other inquiries 

Christopher Mallory, SRDC publication production manager
613-789-9695 / cmallory@srdc.org