(July 13, 2021) - In 2018 my first child graduated from high school and I officially became a college parent. During our search for colleges, we realized my daughter’s dream of becoming a screenwriter was not going to become reality at an in-state public university. Searching beyond state universities was not in “my” plan. We were lucky to find a fantastic out-of-state screenwriting program that was affordable after she was awarded scholarships, grants, and loans. Of course, we still had expenses to pay after scholarships and financial aid were awarded. Soon, she will graduate with not only a BFA in Screenwriting but also some student loan debt. Thankfully, with our parent contributions reducing the amount she has had to borrow, her debt won’t be an overwhelming amount.
The proposed and highly anticipated “free college”, mentioned in the Fact Sheet for The American Families Plan, sounds fantastic. However, in reality, it will likely only cover some, but not all college expenses and could limit which colleges your student can attend. Chances are, it probably won’t cover every student’s path to their dreams. Many dreams go beyond the proposals for “free tuition”. It is still extremely important to plan ahead and save what you can for your student’s future. Dreams, opportunities, and certainly government funding all change over the years, but your savings will grow. That is fantastic news! Even if what you save doesn't amount to the full cost of attendance, every dollar you can contribute now will reduce your child’s student debt in the future.
Qualified education expenses that parents need to consider add up fast! After tuition and fees, the second-largest expense is usually room and board (can average $7,000-$13,000 a year). Additional expenses to plan for can include books, supplies, computers or laptops and other necessary software and equipment. College related costs don’t end there. There are many that don’t fall under qualified expenses, like daily necessities, dorm or apartment needs, health insurance, activity fees specific to your student’s interests, and transportation to and from college. Being mindful about these expenses when children are young, provides you with more time to prepare.
Washington College Savings Plans (WA529) offers two college savings options. The Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) Program and the DreamAhead College Investment Plan. As a 529 prepaid tuition program, the State of Washington guarantees that a family’s GET savings will keep pace with in-state tuition and state-mandated fees. Students have the freedom to follow their ambitions wherever they choose, as GET can be used at nearly any public or private university, community college, or technical school in the country. GET units can even be used to pay the costs associated with apprenticeships and certain student loan repayments. DreamAhead was launched in 2018 to create additional savings options and flexibility for families as they plan for college costs. GET’s annual enrollment window is open from Nov 1 – May 31. You can open a 529 account with DreamAhead year-round.
Although the idea of “free tuition” is exciting to anticipate, if it comes to pass, it will only reduce (not fully cover) the total cost of attending college, community college, apprenticeship programs, and trade schools and will likely have limitations. My son chose a post-secondary path that does not fit into the proposed “free college” plan. This fall we will dive into paying the costs of yet another out-of-state university for my son’s dream of studying animation. I am thankful we are prepared to support him. Continue your efforts to plan ahead and save for your child’s dream. Sending your first or last child off to pursue their dreams knowing you are ready for the costs that lie ahead is priceless. Explore your options and start saving today by visiting our website (wastate529.wa.gov/explore-options).
By Jenn Dyck