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Thought Leadership Thursday

May 29th is 529 Day!

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Thought Leadership Thursday Article

May 29th is 529 Day!
May 23, 2024
Chair, College Savings Plans Network
CEO, Virginia529

Dear Colleagues,

What a treat to have National 529 Day follow so closely on the heels of a successful 2024 Treasury Management Training Symposium. The College Savings Plans Network track had an opportunity to lean into the theme of the conference by focusing on Making and Building Connections - as all of us renewed friendships and forged new bonds with our colleagues from across the country, as we learn from and are inspired by everyone attending who share their experience and wisdom.  The real joy of the conference is the opportunity to dig into the challenges facing us today as the concept of higher education or postsecondary education or college and career training continues to change and evolve - and sometimes comes under attack.  The enthusiasm and commitment of our 529 crew keep all of us energized and engaged.

We all have read about those who question the continuing need for a college education or have friends who wonder if it is still worth the high cost, or listen to people struggling just to make it through to high school graduation.  Those of us working in 529 plans connect daily with Americans who want the best for themselves and their families, who understand the game seems to be changing, who hear constantly about how expensive college or university is and who often do not have the tools to sort through all the competing messages and information to find their path to the future.  It is a privilege - and a challenge - to provide options and solutions to those seeking answers.  Because we know that, yes, education still and forever matters and is important.

We also know that many high demand jobs and professions today, highly skilled positions, do not require a four- year degree.  In fact, Virginia and many other states have dropped the requirement for a college degree from many state jobs.  Those of us working in education know that the educational paths are changing and how and when people obtain their education is evolving - but that education is still key to a better life.  Our task is to make the value proposition for continuing education. We have to consider how all those facts and realities impact our 529 programs and then tailor our messages and services to meet demand.

Most of us spend much more time than in years past talking about pathways to higher education.  We focus on the many ways a 529 account may be used by families. Most importantly, we expand awareness about the opportunities to advance and find fulfilling and well-paying jobs with a certificate or credential that may be achieved in weeks or months rather than years.  In Virginia, we have 2 million working age adults with no training beyond high school and another 1.2 million with some college credits but no earned credential.  And many of those Virginians remain underemployed and struggling to provide for themselves and their families.  Because of these numbers, we spend considerable time and effort working on programs to increase the number of high school graduates pursuing some postsecondary path AND successfully completing that credential or degree. We spend more time than ever discussing apprenticeships and community college degrees or career and technical credentials to meet the need for in demand skilled positions. We focus on mentoring and advising as keys to successful completion.

We don’t lose sight of the amazing opportunities provided by our four-year universities and the lifetime learning that often starts on campuses across the country.  And for many, graduate school remains a dream - as do concerns about how to pay for that education.  529 plans have become a valued resource for families thinking about the future.  We don’t just assume everyone will find us and understand what is offered in a 529 plan and then start saving and do it for 18 years until their child goes off to college and a perfect life.  We are not just focused on accumulating accounts and dollars under management; our mission is to help families and individuals find a path to an affordable and accessible education.  So 529 plans today offer information and education on all the ways to pay for higher education. This TMTS featured a session on navigating the new FAFSA and providing basic financial aid information.  We had 60 people in a working group session discussing Child Savings Accounts and how to grow those programs to reach underserved populations in our states.  We discussed the dizzying array of programs and strategies designed by 529 plans to help families save for higher education.

Importantly, we have been sharing ideas for general outreach and awareness of 529 plans.  Remarkably to those of us who do this every day, many Americans still are unaware of the power and opportunities provided by 529 plans.  With 529 Day following so closely on the heels of TMTS, this week has provided many chances at conversations about the range of activities our 529 plans have on offer to increase awareness and participation.  We do this important work year round, but get particularly creative for 529 Day.  May 29 provides inspiration to us to make the case for 529 accounts - to encourage people to take that important first step to open an account or make a contribution to that account they opened but then forgot to fund or, better yet, start recurring contributions. We have state proclamations celebrating 529 Day and contests to win a 529 account contribution for those who open an account or set recurring contributions or provide testimonials. Some states focus on employers and provide incentives to them to assist with two accounts.  And the month of May brings webinars and events and contests to increase our reach.  A complete list of the 529 Day activities for 2024 may be found here.

Education remains a cornerstone of success and economic health - for individuals and communities.  The job of advancing education - and showcasing 529 plans as an important partner in achieving educational success - has increased in complexity and importance over time, but the rewards remain largely the same.  Making a positive difference in the lives of families across the country remains a privilege and an honor that CSPN members value and take seriously every day of the year.


Mary Morris
CEO, Virginia529
Chair, CSPN

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