By Catherine Ake
“Start Early, Save Regularly,” and “It’s never too late to start saving” are two of Notre Dame’s Saving for College program’s principle messages. The Saving for College program is a cross-departmental initiative led by John Sejdinaj, Vice President for Finance at the University of Notre Dame, that works to inform and inspire members of the Notre Dame family, South Bend community, as well as state and national communities about the importance of saving for college.
“The Saving for College program works to promote higher education affordability and access. Sallie Mae recently reported that only 51% of families save for college down from 2009 when 62% of families were saving for college. With over one hundred 529 Plans in existence, and with many conflicting opinions on the best way to save for college, it’s easy to see why families become overwhelmed and decide to hold off on creating a college savings strategy. Our goal is to provide clarity to these families and to educate them on the various factors to consider when selecting a college savings vehicle and designing their own personal college savings plan. We aim to empower families to take action and begin planning and saving for one of their largest investments – their children’s education” said Sejdinaj.
Saving for College’s sessions encourage families that every dollar saved impacts a student’s future. Recent research from the Assets and Education Initiative at the University of Kansas finds that children from low to moderate income levels, with as little as $1 in a college savings account, are three times more likely to enroll in and to attend a post-secondary institution, and are four times more likely to graduate with a post-secondary degree. Studies have also found that students with a college savings account are also less likely to incur student loan debt. Those that graduate with debt have $3,200 less student debt on average than those without a college savings account. Some families worry that creating college savings accounts will impact their financial aid packages; however, these accounts compliment and do not a replace financial aid.
The initiative launched in September 2013 when the University hosted a “Saving for College week.” The week featured educational sessions on the importance of saving for college, a national webinar, as well as articles in various campus newsletters and newspapers. The week was successful, with many attendees requesting additional information to send out to family and friends. This led to the launch of savingforcollege.nd.edu which holds Saving for College’s presented materials, as well as webinar videos.
Saving for College aims to impact a variety of audiences with unique needs. For each of the group’s events, they partner with an event sponsor to pinpoint and tailor the presentation to the audience’s exact interests and needs.
This past fall, the group filmed two episodes of Money $ense on Saving for College. The shows aired on WYIN and WNIT PBS stations. Several local schools utilize these videos to educate students on preparing for college.
Students are also reached through Saving for College initiatives at local high schools. This spring, Saving for College piloted several 2-hour small group seminars that engaged parents in the planning process. Through these talks, Saving for College motivates families to find schools that are a good academic and social fit for their children, to reduce their reliance on loans, and to lower the stress of financing their child’s college education since they have planned and saved for the investment. The group also spent a day teaching over 150 students at John Adams high school, encouraging them to pursue higher education, explaining the benefits of savings accounts, and explaining how financial aid packages vary by school.
This spring, Saving for College will host 5 webinars, each targeting state-specific savings programs for California, Texas, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota. Each state has unique 529 Plans and state scholarship programs that require individual attention. The group is also holding a College Savings Day at Notre Dame, dividing the day into three segments. In the morning, there will be a local non-profit summit that will discuss how non-profits can educate children and families on planning for education. There will be a Lunch and Learn for Notre Dame’s Masters for Nonprofit Administration (MNA) students on planning and saving for college that can both help their personal planning, as well as the non-profits that they will serve in the future. Lastly, College Savings Day will close with an afternoon session for graduate students. This talk will discuss how graduates can utilize 529 Plans to manage either their current and future expenses.
For more information on planning for higher education and upcoming events hosted by Saving for College, visit their website at savingforcollege.nd.edu.