Louisiana is making notable strides concerning student preparation for post-secondary education success. The state leads the nation in FAFSA completion growth compared with 2017 data and is ranked third in the nation for 2018 FAFSA completion.
According to this data tracked by the National College Access Network, about 30,000 Louisiana seniors plan to continue their education beyond high school.
“In Louisiana more students than ever before are graduating high school, earning high-value credentials, achieving collegegoing scores on the ACT and completing financial aid forms to fund post-secondary opportunities,” said State Superintendent John White in a news release.
But with changing requirements for TOPS, in addition to its ever-questioned existence, coupled with fears of being saddled with large sums of student loan debt post-graduation, very few families and individuals are taking advantage of money saving opportunities like Louisiana’s “529” College Saving Plan: Student Tuition Assistance and Revenue Trust.
The “START Saving Program” has been in existence since 1997 but according to Gus Wales, Public Information and Communications Director of the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance, only 60,000 START accounts are currently active.
The “START Saving Program” boasts many advantages to participating individuals. Ten unique investment funds are offered to eligible individuals. The primary eligibility rule requires the account owner or named beneficiary to be a Louisiana resident.
Participants are able to save for any necessary college or technical school expense including “tuition, fees, room and board, books, supplies and equipment required for enrollment by the college,” explained Wales.
No fees are charged to participants, and the minimum deposit amount is $10.
Participants are eligible for an income tax deduction for deposits up to $2,400 for single households and $4,800 for joint households.
The state will match up to 14 percent of deposits each year and because the START fund is an investment, accounts will accrue interest based on the market and nature of the account.
If a beneficiary does not plan to attend a post-secondary institution or has money left over in the account, the money can be transferred to a family member or refunded, minus any earned enhancements.
Wales noted many people are unaware of the START program because the state budget does not provide the entity with promotional funds. Therefore, many only hear of the account via word-of-mouth, social media and college events or fairs.