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Pre-paid tuition program touted

September 30, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Calling it a "giant step forward in education," Gov. Cecil H. Underwood and other state officials welcomed a plan here Wednesday that allows parents to save more than half the cost of their child's college education.

The program, "Today a Promise. Tomorrow a Future," allows parents, grandparents or businesses to pay a child's tuition in advance, according to Underwood.

By paying into the plan now, parents can "lock in" at current tuition rates instead of paying higher prices when their children go off to college years from now, according to the state treasurer's office, which administers the program.

Prepaying the costs is expected to save families thousands of dollars by enabling them to avoid increases caused by inflation, state officials said.

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Officials hope the program will increase the number of West Virginia high school students who go on to college. About 50 percent of the state's high school seniors go to college while nationally, about 60 percent of high school seniors further their education, said state Deputy Treasurer Charles Brockway.

"We know that education, kindergarten through college, is truly the ticket to the future," Underwood said during a ceremony at Shepherd College. Local and state public education officials, lawmakers and Shepherd officials joined Underwood on the steps of McMurran Hall to announce the program, which begins statewide today.

West Virginia is joining more than 40 states that are offering college savings programs this year, according to Underwood's office.

The prepaying tuition program is eligible to families with children enrolled up to the ninth grade. Whoever will pay for a child's education sets up monthly payments, which can range from $13 to $356, depending on the type of school and how far the payments are stretched out, according to information distributed about the program.

The money can be used to pay fees at state public colleges and universities, or can be transferred to any fully accredited college or university in the country, officials said.

"I think we have made a giant step forward in education," said state Treasurer John Perdue.

Shepherd College President David L. Dunlop said parents frequently tell him they worry about how they will pay for their child's college education. Dunlop said the new plan gives him "one more weapon in the arsenal" to help parents pay the fees.

State officials say many families wait too long to begin saving for a child's education. Another problem is that federal assistance to students has not kept up with college costs, forcing families to come up with more money.

The prepay program operates under the Prepaid Tuition Trust Act, which was passed by the state last year.

Many safeguards were built into the act to insure the plan operates responsibly, and it must undergo an annual audit, state officials said.

State officials said they will be distributing fliers about the program. Enrollment kits can be obtained by calling 1-800-307-4701.

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