The UA College Savings Plan and Easy, Peasy Payroll Deduction

The UA College Savings Plan is a big part of the financial picture for the Ripley-O'Donoghue family. Pictured above, from left to right, are Rachel O'Donoghue; Robin O'Donoghue; Rory O'Donoghue, West Valley High School 2014 salutatorian; Brian O'Donoghue; grandpa Rudy Ripley; grandma Judy Ripley; Kate Ripley; and aunt Marjy Ripley Wood.

By Kate Ripley

There are three reasons why I participate in the UA College Savings Plan through employee payroll deduction: Rory, Robin and Rachel.

Our 18, 16 and 10 year old, respectively, were just babies when we first signed up for the UA College Savings Plan. My husband, UAF Journalism Professor Brian O’Donoghue, started working for the university when Rory and Robin were toddlers. I joined UA Statewide a number of years later, when Rachel was only three months old. A friend (Dermot Cole, as a matter of fact) told us a long time ago that the UA College Savings Plan was one of the highest rated in the country, in terms of quality service and low fees. We started saving for Rory, then Robin and ultimately Rachel, as soon as we could.

They each have an account in their own name, plus Brian and I each have one funded by payroll deduction. You might think, “I paid my own way in college--kids these days should too!” Well, you’re welcome to your opinion. Mine is that nothing is the same these days as they were when I went to college.

For one thing, college is more expensive—everywhere (though it’s still a good deal at the University of Alaska!). It’s more competitive if your son or daughter shoots for one of the more selective universities, the application process seems more complex, the demands on a young person’s time seems much harder. Students as a whole in college take on too much loan debt, which sets them up for a shaky start in life. A little bit of debt is OK, even expected. But I’ve heard stories of loans for a bachelor’s degree in the $80,000 to $100,000 range. Everyone has his or her own debt tolerance level, but that amount of loan debt isn’t acceptable for one of my kids, and I wouldn’t advise them to take that route. A young adult just starting out in life is going to have a mighty hard time making the loan payments on top of rent, groceries and health care. I remember struggling to pay off my own $23,000 loan when I was making $12 an hour as a newspaper reporter.

Even if your child takes advantage of the employee tuition waiver at one of our fabulous UA campuses (which I highly recommend, by the way), there are costs beyond tuition, including room and board. Statistics show that students who live on campus are more likely to be successful. Not everyone is a statistic, but living in the dorms was a great experience for both my husband and myself as undergraduates, so we’re encouraging our kids to at least try it.  

Then there are fees. And books. And transportation. Even with the employee tuition waiver for your children at UA, college isn’t cheap. Saving through the UA College Savings Plan, which provides a tax-advantaged way to save, makes sense. Payroll deduction is painless. Even a modest amount, say $50 per paycheck, really adds up over 18 years of a child’s life. You won’t even miss the money because you never see it.

The slogan “Save in Alaska, Study Anywhere” is true. As anyone within hearing distance of my office knows (due to loud whooping and hollering) our oldest son was accepted into Harvard, Columbia, Yale and Oberlin College and Conservatory this spring. He wants to study music, so he’s going to Oberlin, near Cleveland, Ohio. The UA College Savings Plan is a major factor behind how we can afford his attendance at this prestigious music conservatory. (Some hefty scholarships on his part didn’t hurt, either.) If we’ve done the calculations right, Rory will graduate debt free.    

Our second son, Robin, will be a junior at West Valley High School next year. His turn to fly is coming, sooner than we realize. As parents, my husband and I are at a transitional stage, sending our teenagers off into the world to broaden their minds, learn a thing or two, and begin their lives as young adults. We have a few more years before Rachel takes flight, but that transition is coming too.

The UA College Savings Plan and payroll deduction play a part in the transition. I’m glad we’ve done it!

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