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Bill Kohler: Tuition hikes make me sweat

July 18, 2002|by BILL KOHLER

I'm already having random nightmares about my 18-month-old daughter's first date.

And I wonder how I'll react when the doorbell rings and some salivating, pimple-faced boy with gold chains, a goatee and a tattoo on his shoulder utters, "Yoh, is Madison here?"

Those are things I fear and dread.

Like death, taxes and debt, I know a first date is inevitable.

Now comes another monkey wrench.

In last Friday's paper, we ran stories about the adopted tuition hikes at Pennsylvania's state colleges and the impending doom of a 13.5 percent increase at all of Penn State's campuses.

Thirteen-point-five percent???!!!!

That's not even taking into consideration room and board that is set by each school.

State system officials say the increases are just inflationary and needed to keep up with the growing costs of a quality education.


The results of these hikes are not as frightening to me now as Madison pads around the room and utters her first words.

What really scares me - even more than boys, cars, dates and the teenage years - is what the tuition hikes will be when the teenage years are coming to an end in 2018. (My God, that's scary, isn't it?)

How in the name of higher education will I be able to pay for my child's furtherance of knowledge?

My wife and I have been saving since before Madison was born, but at this rate, I'll have to quadruple our biweekly contributions just to be able to pay for one semester.

Yeah, Madison is a smart little yapper, but will she get a bunch of academic scholarships? Who knows? Even if she does, it might not be enough to pay all the bills.

Athletic scholarship? The odds are not in our favor. Only great athletes get full rides and that's just to the bigger schools.

Refinancing the house? I read in Parade magazine a few weeks ago about a family that refinanced its home mortgage five times to pay the costs of sending five very bright children to Harvard.

We just bought a house so I guess that's a possibility down the road, but that seems to be like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

So where did I turn? The Internet, of course.

I logged onto and found out all kinds of interesting facts and figures about the 529 plan.

A 529 is an investment option operated by states designed to help families save for future college costs. The money earns interest tax-free for as long as it stays in the plan. And when the plan makes a distribution to pay for the beneficiary's college costs, the distribution is tax-free as well.

According to, the donor stays in control of the account, it's a simple enrollment process and it will only have a small impact (5.6% of the value) on the child's chances to qualify for financial aid.

Anybody can take out a plan - parents, grandparents, rich aunts with no kids, even the beneficiary. That's right, if my wife Karin wants to go back to school in five years, she can open a plan now and use that money then.

The 529 plans are administered differently by each state and this Web site has links to each state's plan manager. I think we will be taking a closer look at this very soon.

If all this fails? Financial aid and student loans will help plug the holes if they still exist at the end of the next decade.

And, there's always sports.

Is 18 months too young to start teaching Madison how to dribble a basketball?

Bill Kohler is Tri-State Editor of the Morning Herald. You may reach him at 1-800-626-6397, ext. 2023, or by e-mail at

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