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Thought Leadership Thursday

Beyond 529s: Setting our Students up for Success

Zach Conine

Thought Leadership Thursday Article

Beyond 529s: Setting our Students up for Success
June 4, 2020
State Treasurer

Dear Colleagues:

The value of an education cannot be understated. What begins as a series of small moments like science projects and learning multiplication tables, leads to job interviews and lifelong careers. It’s the culmination of those moments and dedication that is passed to the next generation through training and mentorship and that prepares the next generation for the workforce demands of tomorrow.

A defining moment of a student’s educational path is the point at which the child’s family begins saving for college. Historically, we’ve focused on encouraging families to start saving early, so their kids can attend four-year universities and have greater opportunities to succeed. For some families, that model works well, but for many others, like those who live paycheck to paycheck, saving even the smallest amounts is not possible.

State Treasurers have done an incredible job serving as the fiduciaries for their respective state-sponsored 529 plans over the years. Through hard work and dedication, those who came before us helped to ensure that millions of families could pay for higher education.

However, the tools we offer families to make higher education more affordable don’t reflect the diversity of our communities or the breadth of higher education pathways. As such, there’s an opportunity for us to broaden the focus of educational savings programs to increase equity and access and meet the demands of tomorrow’s economy.

A year ago, no one could have predicted that we’d be where we are now – in the midst of a global pandemic. When I took office in 2019, the economy was on stable financial ground and Nevada was on its way to some of its best economic times. After the past few months, it’s clear that the world around us is rapidly changing. Jobs that were available yesterday may not be here tomorrow, and similarly, the need for a traditional four-year degree may not be as valuable as it once was.

Higher education can and should be a realistic option for every student - not just an abstraction. As financial experts and advocates for higher education, Treasurers and their staff serve as trusted resources for people who are navigating the complexities of financially planning, preparing, and paying for the education they need to achieve their career goals. It’s our responsibility to be ready to meet this moment.

Many of the tools we need are available, it’s just a matter of implementing them and meeting families where they are in the community. We can expand and build on existing 529 infrastructure to help those in need make their dollars go further. Similarly, we can build new programs that help students understand the cost and benefit of various degree and certificate programs and provide education on student loans so they can start planning earlier to avoid years of debt following graduation. Finally, we can structure our scholarship programs to incentivize students to pursue technical training for the pipeline of jobs we’ll need to fill in the coming decades.

An inclusive and resilient economy that doesn’t leave our residents behind is critical as we rebuild our states in the aftermath of COVID-19. Shifting the paradigm around what it means to plan, save, and pay for higher education is necessary to make that happen.

Treasurers, as fiscal stewards for their respective states, understand the impact that financial planning and investments can have on long-term economic prosperity. We are in the position to help the next generation realize their economic potential; we just have to help them get there.

Be safe, be well, be kind.


Zach Conine
Nevada State Treasurer
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