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    College Savings Accounts Aren’t Just About the Money

    Missouri's treasurer says 529 programs are only one piece of the college puzzle.
    BY  APRIL 14, 2016

    Every summer, staff at the nonprofit Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis spends the majority of their time in painful conversations with low-income families whose oldest child has been accepted to a college they can’t afford. The families bring their financial aid offers to these meetings with the hopes that the foundation will help them find a way to make it work.

    But what they often learn, says Faith Sandler, the foundation’s executive director, is that paying back the loan would strain them to the breaking point. It’s crushing news. The Scholarship Foundation, she says, can’t “award to a needy student if that’s the kind of situation we’re contributing to. It’s a really difficult position for us to be in.”

    That’s why the foundation jumped at a chance to partner with Missouri when it began offering matching grants in 2011 to lower-income families that start an account in MOST, the state's 529 college savings plan. The foundation set up and began contributing money to savings accounts for needy eighth graders. The idea wasn’t necessarily to significantly offset the cost of college for those kids, but was to set their families’ expectations and get them to start planning. “I think what we really want to do is to try and have smarter conversations earlier so we can avoid those horrible moments,” Sandler says.

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