By Sarah Steelman
All parents have high hopes for their children. As your state treasurer, I hold each and every one of those hopes to be sacred, because your kids mean everything to you, to me and to our state. In today's world, a college education is essential to making sure those hopes are turned into reality. That's why I believe every child in our state should have the opportunity to go to college.
Nothing is more important than our kids and their dreams. And the dreams are not just personal. Our state's continued prosperity and productivity depends on the ongoing contributions of a well-educated citizenry. We're all in this together.
Facing college costs is daunting. The cost of a public university education in our state has gone up 66 percent in the past five years. The average cost of a college education for a child born today will be $125,513. In other words, a family would have to save $236 a month for 18 years to cover the full cost. This is the real crisis we face in higher education today. Most families -- regardless of income -- are facing an ever-increasing risk that their children are being priced out of the American dream or will have to take out sizable loans to meet the cost of college education.
MOST, Missouri's 529 college savings plan, can help. With MOST, parents can take advantage of state tax benefits for saving. Accounts can be started and maintained for as little as $25 a month and, in some instances, less. Anyone -- parents, grandparents, friends, even the students themselves -- can contribute to an account. Accounts can be transferred within families subject to certain limitations. Money can be used for any qualified higher education cost, including tuition, certain room and board expenses, books and supplies. And the money can be used at accredited colleges and universities across the nation and even some overseas.
There's been no better time to open a MOST account. Recognizing the enormous popularity and benefits of 529 college savings plans, Congress and the president recently made permanent a provision in the federal tax code allowing earnings to be tax-exempt when withdrawn if used for such higher-education expenses. That action, coupled with Missouri's excellent state tax benefits and low program maintenance fees, have earned MOST recognition as one of the top such programs in the country.
But as the late-night ads say, "Wait, there's more."
Missouri's MOST program is administered by Upromise Investments, also known for its Upromise Rewards program, which helps you save even more for college by giving back a percentage of your qualified spending with hundreds of America's leading companies. And recently, the MOST program expanded its investment lineup to include portfolios managed by Missouri's own American Century Investments and The Vanguard Group, one of the country's leading low-cost mutual fund managers. Involvement in MOST is heavy by other Missouri investment companies, including A.G. Edwards and Edward Jones.
Recognizing the need for families to start saving early, I am pleased to be working in partnership with Parents as Teachers, the Missouri-based international early childhood parent education and family support organization, to get the message out on MOST. This award-winning program reaches more than 100,000 Missouri families -- almost 150,000 children -- from birth to age 5 with health and developmental screenings and education to ensure their children's readiness for school. Advising parents about the new MOST plan empowers them to start saving early for college so that their kids can dream big.
I am committed to MOST. As a mother myself, its benefits are undeniable for my family, for your family and for our state moving forward. I am working hard on even more ways to make the MOST program work for us, so stay tuned.
I want us to engage in this together, reaching parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors and friends, employers and unions -- everyone out there who can help to make college dreams come true for every Missouri child.
Sarah Steelman is Missouri's state treasurer.