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January/February 2011 — Web Exclusive

Locking in Success

In Texas, the average cost for 15 credit hours at a public college or university has risen by more than 70 percent since 2003.

Plan offers today's prices for  tomorrow’s education

by Clint Shields

It’s an annual event that offers better lives for thousands of Texas kids — the enrollment period for the Texas Tuition Promise Fund (TTPF). The 2010-11 enrollment period, marking the TTPF’s third year, ran from September 2010 to Feb. 28, 2011. The 2011-12 enrollment period will open on Sept. 1, 2011.

The Tuition Promise Fund is a state-administered prepaid tuition plan that allows its participants to lock in the cost of college tuition and fees at Texas public colleges and universities at today’s prices.

Texas Tuition Promise Fund - A Prepaid Plan as Smart as You Are.

And that’s a significant advantage, given the skyrocketing cost of higher education. In Texas, the average cost of 15 credit hours at a public college or university has risen by more than 70 percent since 2003, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

“Many parents feel helpless when confronted by economic uncertainty and rising tuition costs,” says Kevin Deiters, director of the Comptroller’s Educational Opportunities and Investment Division. “But they need to step back and realize that college is much more affordable than people think — and that more resources are available to students than ever before.”

As of early December 2010, TTPF had received more than 1,200 new applications worth about $17 million in contracts. Tight budgets for many Texans slowed enrollment in the 2009-10 period to about 4,200, compared with more than 13,000 enrollments in the TTPF’s initial round in 2008-09. In those first two enrollment periods, Texans purchased more than $300 million in TTPF contracts.

A Flexible Commitment

TTPF is based on “units” of college education. Think of the cost of tuition and required fees for 30 semester credit hours — for most students, a typical course load for two semesters. Now divide the cost for those hours by 100, and you have a single unit. Four hundred units, then, are generally equivalent to four years of college.

“One of the best things about the program is its flexibility, both in the type of units parents can purchase and the payment options available,” says Linda Fernandez, TTPF program manager. “Parents can pay for all units at one time or spread the cost over the remaining time until the beneficiary goes to college. For newborns, that could be as long as 18 years. There’s an option for every budget,” she says.

You’ll need a separate contract for each child enrolled in TTPF, but many families enroll multiple children. To qualify, the child must be a Texas resident or the parent must be the purchaser and a Texas resident. Units must be held for at least three years before they can be redeemed.

Interested parents also have a couple of different options concerning deadlines. For most kids, the 2010-11 enrollment window is open until Feb. 28, 2011. Parents with a newborn or a child less than one year old, however, can enroll until July 31, 2011.

TTPF also allows grandparents, aunts, uncles and others to help in building funds for a college education. The plan’s “gifting” feature allows family and friends to contribute funds to a TTPF account — and at any time, not just during an enrollment period. Understandably, parents made up 87 percent of new contract purchasers in the first two enrollment periods, but Deiters says the importance of getting the whole family involved can’t be overstated.

“Parents should encourage friends and family to contribute to their child’s college education,” he says. “It makes it easy for them to contribute on special occasions — birthdays, holidays, quinceañeras, elementary school graduations and other events. Although the whole family can contribute, the parents still control how the money is spent on their child’s education.” FN

Complete information on the Texas Tuition Promise Fund, enrollment forms, answers to frequently asked questions and more are available online.

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