Be College Ready to launch in the fall

By Katherine Lacaze

Seaside Signal

The Seaside School District is one of five districts to pilot a state program to raise awareness about the benefit of families getting a head start on college savings.

The Oregon College Savings Plan, which is part of the Oregon 529 College Savings Network, announced the Be College Ready program just recently. The program will kick off in September.

“We really want to foster a college-going culture in our state and we want to make sure that every kid who wants to should have the opportunity to go regardless of money, or family situation or anything else,” said Michael Parker, executive director of the Oregon 529 College Savings Network. “We want every kid to know that they can be college ready, regardless of their situation.”

The Oregon College Savings Plan chose Seaside School District because the group was looking for geographic diversity and varying district sizes when piloting the Be College Ready program. Also, the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators suggested Seaside would embrace the program, Parker said.

“It’s awesome that Seaside’s going to be a pilot, and it doesn’t really surprise me because we are very receptive to anything that helps the kids,” said Angela Fairless, a member of Seaside Heights’ Parent-Teacher Organization.

With both Seaside Heights and Gearhart elementary schools participating, the program will impact more than 700 students.

“Parents sort of get the idea of college savings at that kindergarten age when they’re dropping their kids off for the first time. There’s something that sort of clicks in,” Parker said. “Our goal is, if that doesn’t click in, if you hear about it at your school, it’s going to click in. So that’s why the elementaries are so important to us at this time.”

The state’s goal with the 529 program, Parker said, is to have compound interest working for people rather than against them. A family can save about $35,000 by putting aside $200 per month for 10 years at a 7 percent rate of return, earning approximately an extra $11,000 in interest. In contrast, borrowing $35,000 at a 6.8 percent interest rate and paying it off over 10 years equals $400 per month.

The program starts by schools becoming certified as 529 College Savings Schools. To become certified, the school must share information about the Oregon College Savings Plan on its website, have savings plan materials available in the main office, share monthly updates with students and parents and host an informational session about college funding for parents and the local community.

The schools, in return, will receive homework folders, pencils, pens, bookmarks and posters each year. In the first year, each school also will receive a $529 donation to its predetermined classroom fund and a 529 school certificate. The 529 designation is meant to be a reminder to save for college.

“It’s good to give parents and students a goal for the future beyond elementary school, high school,” Gearhart Elementary School Principal Juli Wozniak said. “When we have a goal, sometimes we make different choices, positive choices.”

Fairless agreed.

“When we visualize ourselves doing something, when we think we can do it, when we talk about doing it, it becomes much more possible and likely to happen,” she said.

The program will involve educating parents about how to plan for future college expenses, motivating kids with classroom materials and partnering with local business and civic organizations to reinforce the message that it’s important to save for college as early as possible.

What that means for Seaside is “we’re going to work with everybody,” Parker said. “It’s not just going to be a school-based event. We want the community to be involved as well.”

“It’s totally nonideological, it’s totally nonpartisan; people just see the benefit,” said John Valley, the outreach director of Oregon 529 College Savings Network.

In addition to Seaside, the Be College Ready will be piloted in the Hermiston, Grants Pass, McMinnville and North Clackamas school districts. The goal is to expand the kindergarten through fifth-grade program every year and ultimately offer it to every school district statewide.

“We do also want to make sure we touch base with those parents of older kids who can get information from us regarding financial aid and scholarship opportunities,” Parker said.

For more information about the Oregon College Savings Plan, visit www.OregonCollegeSavings.com, call 866-772-8464, or go the program’s Facebook page.

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