A mandatory, publicly subsidized college savings account starting at birth could help U.S. citizens afford college and avoid significant debt, according to a study by two University of Kansas professors.

Forcing families to put aside $23 per month with a matching government contribution would give their children $16,000 when they each reach 18, enough to avoid massive student debt, according to professors William Elliott III and Melinda Lewis, who conducted the study as researchers for the liberal think-tank New America Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Reducing the college debt burden is important because debt over $10,000 significantly reduces a student’s chance of graduating and harms long-term, post-college financial health, Elliott and Lewis said.

There is a political window of opportunity to enact a mandatory program with public contributions because of widespread publicity over the harm high debt is having on recent college graduates, Lewis said.

But the problems of getting a program running go beyond legislation, Elliott said. More research is needed on how to encourage low-income families to save, he said,

Another benefit of the program is that it would get low-income people to deal with banks, which would encourage them to put money away and save them the expense of check-cashing services and pay-day lenders, he said. Those bank accounts are said to spend $1,000 on financial services per year on average.

Under the children’s savings account as envisioned by the study, the money could only be used for post-secondary education and could not be tapped before the child turned 18.

The full report is available at save4ed.com/biannual-report.