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- The Open Government Team
By Alfred Yang
In February 2015, I decided to spend a weekend building an app for the Canadian Open Data Experience (CODE). Little did I know it was the beginning of an incredible journey that would become Proliteracy.ca.
The Concept: A data-driven approach to post-secondary financial planning
Proliteracy's goal is to help Canadians plan their finances for post-secondary education. This tool not only relates to a significant financial goal for most Canadians, but also showcases a range of datasets including tuition, rent, and living expenses across the country.
Let's illustrate how it works with an example. Let's say you have a 10 year old daughter who is completely fascinated with animals. You have a feeling she may want to study life science one day. You obviously want to give her the best shot at attending a great post-secondary institution. With that goal in mind there are a number of crucial questions that need to be answered:
- How much money do you need to be saving?
- What is the cost difference between studying locally versus out of province?
- What financing options, besides the family's savings, are available?
- If a student loan is required, what kind of financial burden would that create for the child?
Proliteracy.ca is designed to help answer these questions. It starts off by asking you for a few key pieces of information, and then proceeds to make predictions on tuition, cost of living and expenses based on historical data. The end result is a good estimate of the financial target the individual or their family should be aiming for when planning for post-secondary education, along with the funding options available to help them reach it.
Validation: Meeting with Financial Literacy Experts
Following CODE 2015, the Treasury Board Secretariat introduced our team to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC). Through the FCAC, we learned about the government's nationwide financial literacy initiative and got introduced to a wide range of organizations - from non-profits, to financial institutions, to local communities - that all shared the same goal of educating consumers. We learned that for decades the cost of post-secondary tuition in Canada has been increasing well beyond inflation, and that students are graduating with an average of over $28,000 in debt. We also found that Canadians in general lack awareness when it comes to funding options - only 47% of eligible families have a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) account, and millions of dollars of scholarships go unclaimed each year!
After meeting with over 20 different organizations and completing a pilot program with select high schools in the Greater Toronto Area, we officially launched Proliteracy.ca in January 2016.
Making an Impact: Working with Consumers and Partners
The next step is expanding our reach. For example, SmartSaver.org will now be using technology provided by Proliteracy.ca to help accelerate the adoption of RESPs and Canada Learning Bonds among low income families. We are hopeful that by offering our technology to larger organizations we will be able to ensure it reaches everyone who needs it!
That is how we see it: technology and open data as a backbone for financial literacy.