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Can You Imagineā€¦


A school system where 62% of the students are eligible for Free or Reduced Lunches, but 70% of the kindergarten through fifth grade students have opened a state of Indiana CollegeChoice 529 Plan. That’s the reality in Wabash County, Indiana, thanks to a community-driven effort called Promise Indiana. Clint Kugler, CEO of the Wabash County YMCA, which launched the initial Promise program in Wabash County in 2013, told us, “At the school registration three years ago every family walked by the College Choice 529 Plan table; you could tell there were lots of families that will need financial help with college costs, but no one ever stopped to find out more about the program.” Thanks to a diverse group of partners on both the local and state level and the entire community rallying to address this gap, one year later, 70% of families signed up for a CollegeChoice 529 plan.

The Promise offers a $25 initial deposit and a community match for students who raise $25 for their account from friends, family or neighbors. The premise of the program is that if they start saving for college early in their academic careers and large numbers of their peers participate, it creates a “college-going culture” that will pay huge dividends. Research from the field of Children’s Savings Accounts supports the premise: Low and moderate income youth with an account with a balance of just $1-$499 are 3 times more likely to go to college and 4 times more likely to graduate from college.

Promise Indiana is looking for “champions” for each student who can provide additional deposits and encouragement. While the funds from champions and families are deposited into the child’s primary account, any community matching funds reside in a protected account. The student can only access these additional contributions to their accounts if they actually enroll in a qualifying educational institution where 529 plans are accepted—two-year colleges, four-year, or even technical or certification programs. Of the over 3,200 CollegeChoice 529 accounts established through the Promise program, more than 40% of them have seen family and/or champion deposits.  

And it’s not just about the money. College visits, careful high school course selections and other college preparatory activities will be planned as these younger students arrive at their middle school and high school years.

For more information about Promise Indiana and the communities that are following Wabash County’s lead by establishing their own Promise programs, go to Clint Kugler’s contact information is at the bottom of the page.

Publication Date: September 2015