Editorial: Oregon College Savings Plan is a wise investment

Published Mar 30, 2013 at 05:00AM

Newspapers have been full of stories in recent months about the high price of college and whether it’s worth the money. Measured in terms of earning power and the likelihood of unemployment, it is in many cases. Yet paying for college can leave a graduate and his family with substantial debt.

According to the website Business Insider, during the last recession the unemployment rate for college grads was roughly half of what it was for high school graduates. And, during the last quarter of last year, those college graduates earned almost twice as much per week as did high school graduates.

The downside comes in debt. The average college graduate today picks up his diploma and a bill for more than $27,000. If he or she has gone on to law school, for example, the number may rise to as much as $125,000, with parents a further $34,000 in debt.

Paying all that off is a tremendous burden, and it may grow worse in years to come. According to the Associated Press, unless Congress acts before the end of June, the interest rate on new subsidized Stafford loans will double to 6.8 percent.

This state’s Oregon College Savings Plan offers students and their families a way to reduce those numbers, particularly if they start early. The 529 investment program gives parents, kids and families a way to put money aside tax free for college. Yet only 7.24 percent of families with children under 18 in Deschutes County participate, and in Crook and Jefferson counties that number is far lower, a bit over 2 percent.

For families that do participate, the benefits are clear. Earnings must be used for education, though not necessarily in Oregon or at a four-year public university. The account can be used by any family member. Also, Oregon plan money can be used for students with special needs, a group that generally is cut off from traditional college financial assistance.

The plan’s supporters note that it’s likely many kids will still have to borrow to get through college. Borrowing less, however, means reducing future debt, perhaps dramatically. That’s what the Oregon College Savings Plan is all about.