K-12 innovation leads to options for college students


August 1, 2014 9:29AM

Earlier this year, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported that college graduates stand to earn more than those with just a high school diploma, with returns to the investment of earning a degree at approximately 15 percent. This should have prospective students packing their bags – at least until they are reminded of the staggering total college loan debt figure of $1.1 trillion across the country. Four-year degrees can cost upwards of $60,000 per year, and the U.S. Department of Education says “the average borrower now graduates with nearly $30,000 in debt.” Getting a job to help pay for college and living in mom and dad’s basement start to sound like pretty good ideas. However, thanks to education savings accounts – a program growing across the country – prospective college students don’t have to be limited by debt. Florida is the latest state to implement the program. On July 18 this year, Florida families of children with special needs began signing up for Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts. The accounts let families start saving for college years in advance. Families use the public money deposited into the accounts to pay for educational expenses like educational therapy, online classes, and private school tuition. For students determined to go to college, parents can use the accounts for prepaid college tuition plans. Nearly 1 in 5 Arizona public school students is eligible to open an education savings account that works much like Florida’s. However, Arizona’s accounts also allow students to save any money left in the accounts after high school for up to four years, even if a student does not go to college immediately. This feature gives families the flexibility to deposit a portion of education savings account money into a college savings plan each year as their child moves through K-12. Some students may choose to get ahead and use the accounts to pay for college classes while in high school, giving them a leg up on the admissions process. Others may wait and save the funds until they are ready to pursue a college degree. Education savings accounts can help families with college tuition before debt becomes a problem, and the accounts give the next generation of students more choices than “life in debt” or “life in my parents’ basement.” -Jonathan Butcher