Read more at the Reading Eagle
HARRISBURG, PA — Every baby born or adopted into a Pennsylvania home is now eligible to get $100 toward future higher education expenses.
Parents can simply apply for it online at www.pa529.com/keystone/.
The Pennsylvania Treasury has expanded the Keystone Scholars program from a 2018 trial run in six counties, not including Berks, to all counties for babies born on or after Jan. 1, 2019.
College is expensive, with the average cost of a single college text book at $153, according to the College Board, a nonprofit organization founded to expand access to quality higher education.
A baby with education savings at birth is more likely to pursue and complete some form of education after high school, the state’s Keystone Scholars website says.
Parents must open a PA 529 college savings account to claim the $100. This can be done online at www.pa529.com. Pennsylvania’s 529 plan is named for the section of the IRS code allowing for tax-free savings toward higher education.
The money remains with the state Treasury until it is used for higher education expenses, including college in any state, community college or vocational school.
The Keystone Scholars Program is meant to encourage families to start saving for higher education early.
“For example, if a family claimed the $100 scholarship grant and started putting just $25 per month into a PA 529 account that they opened, the total would be approximately $10,000,” said Treasury Press Secretary Heidi Havens in an email. That number is for an 18-year-old whose parents have been saving from birth, based on investment assumptions.
A single semester for a student living on campus at Kutztown University is $10,880.
The PA 529 plan offers two ways to save for college: a guaranteed savings plan or an investment plan that will help grow the savings.
The Pennsylvania Treasury Department does the investing. No matter how these investments perform, account growth – when used for qualified college expenses- is based on college tuition increases.
It means the fund, not the investor, assumes the risk for covering tuition inflation, Havens said.
The $100 scholarship grant is not paid for with any taxpayer funds, Havens said.
The program will be funded from existing surplus investment earnings within the PA 529 savings program and philanthropic donations.
The six-county trial program in 2018 had over 1,200 parents sign up for the $100 grant. The trial program was funded through philanthropic sources that include the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, the Neubauer Family Foundation and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.
So far PHEAA agreed to put $1.5 million to the program and has already has disbursed $146,500 to Treasury, said PHEAA spokesman Keith New.
The state will continue to raise funds from both past and potential new philanthropic donors, Havens said.
State Treasurer Joe Torsella was the first donor for the statewide program, Havens said. He donated the full amount of his automatic pay increase to the fund, and has announced that he will do so with each automatic pay increase that follows.
Students have until age 29 to use the $100 grant money.