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Study Shows UP Is Lagging In College Savings

Lansing – Upper Peninsula parents are less likely than those in other regions of the state to have begun saving for their children’s college education, a first-of-its-kind survey by the Michigan Education Trust (MET) found.

The study by the state’s 529 prepaid tuition program discovered that 47 percent of Upper Peninsula families are saving for college, compared with 56 percent in Southeast Michigan and 53 percent in both South-central and West Michigan. The Saginaw Bay region, also at 47 percent, is the only part of the state with an average savings rate as low as the U.P.’s.

Furthermore, the state’s overall 54 percent college savings rate is less than the 57 percent nationwide average as determined by the Sallie Mae student loan company’s “How America Saves for College 2016” report.

MET’s Upper Peninsula survey results were released today in conjunction with a college savings informational session hosted by State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, State Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, and MET Executive Director Robin Lott at the Peter White Public Library in Marquette.

MET – which is managed by the Michigan Department of Treasury – undertook the survey to gain deeper understanding into Michigan families’ needs and possible roadblocks to saving for college.

“There’s a lot of research on saving for college on a national level, but detailed information specific to Upper Peninsula and Michigan families – the people we serve – isn’t readily available,” Lott said. “The statistically valid survey results will help us determine how we can better meet Michigan families’ college savings needs and increase awareness that 529 college savings can be used for trade and technical schools.”

Cambensy noted that the survey also discovered that Upper Peninsula parents are less aware of Section 529 college savings plans such as MET compared with those in other regions of the state. Section 529 plans, named after a section of the Internal Revenue Code, are tax-advantaged savings and investment vehicles designed to encourage saving for college.

“I would strongly urge Upper Peninsula families who are looking for safe and convenient ways to save for their children’s higher education to look into what MET and the Michigan Education Savings Program – or MESP – have to offer,” Cambensy said. “Both plans are consistently among the highest rated of their kind in national rankings.”

MET’s online survey, which drew 742 responses from Michigan residents age 18 or older who have children under 18 living at home, has a margin of error of 3.6 percent. It aimed to gauge awareness of 529 college savings plans, perceptions related to saving for college, the value placed on saving for college and strategies parents use to reduce college costs.

“It’s clear that Upper Peninsula parents value a college education,” Casperson said. “Survey results show that 91 percent view college as an investment in their children’s future and that 77 percent are willing to stretch themselves financially to ensure they can attend college.”

In fact, 33 percent of Upper Peninsula parents would use a portion of their retirement savings for their child’s college costs, the second-highest rate in the state behind 39 percent in the South-central region, the survey found. Other primary sources of paying for college expenses, in the order most cited, were scholarships, parent income at the time the child is enrolled in college, federal or state financial aid or grants and  student loans.

Additional findings from the MET survey include:

– Only 40 percent of Upper Peninsula parents are highly confident they will meet the costs of college education, by far the lowest level in the state. West Michigan, at 49 percent, was next lowest.

– Among parents statewide, the leading reason for not saving for college is not having enough money, which was cited by 6 in 10 respondents. Upper Peninsula parents, however, were most likely to say they lack the money to save, with 79 percent giving that reason.

– Of those who are saving, half started when their oldest child was between 0 and 3 years old, and 8 in 10 had started saving by the time their oldest child was 10.

– Also among savers, 55 percent are using a traditional bank savings account to accumulate college savings.

– Among nonsavers, 57 percent say they feel “overwhelmed” about saving for college, compared with 37 percent of savers.

– Relatively few parents believe they will not need college savings (5 percent) or that financial aid or scholarships will be enough to cover costs (11 percent).

MET, which allows for the purchase of future college tuition credits based on today’s rates, is celebrating its 30th anniversary as the nation’s first prepaid tuition program. MET, MESP and MI 529 Advisor Plan (MAP), Michigan’s three Section 529 college savings programs, offer Michigan taxpayers a state income tax deduction on contributions and potential tax-free growth on earnings if account proceeds are used to pay for qualified higher education expenses. More information about MET is available at SETwithMET.com or 800-MET-4-KID (800-638-4543).

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