Campus beat: State Fair promo gives a jump on college savings

  • Article by: ON CAMPUSMAURA LERNER
  • Updated: August 22, 2013 - 9:28 AM

When it comes to paying for college, $200 may not seem like a lot of money.

But state officials are hoping it’s enough to grab the attention of parents and grandparents at this year’s Minnesota State Fair.

For the second year in a row, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education will give away a check for $200 — made out to a college savings plan — to one lucky family each day.

It’s all part of a campaign to get people thinking about saving for college, said Sandy Connolly, a spokeswoman for the Higher Ed Office. “Even if it’s just enough to cover the cost of books, it’s definitely worth it, no matter the age,” she said.

In the past, the agency used to give out pencils at its booth in the Education Building, she said. But last year, the office decided to try something “more meaningful.” Now it holds a daily drawing, and the winner gets the seed money to start a Minnesota College Savings Plan account.

Last year, Mark Scheffknecht of Inver Grove Heights was surprised when he learned that his daughter, Taylor, had won the drawing. He and his wife, Coleen, had been saving for college since their kids were toddlers, he said.

What he didn’t know, though, was that the state plan, known as a 529 account, was tax-free. So he immediately switched all three college accounts. “I found out that this was a better deal,” he said.

It may not have made much difference for Taylor, who turns 18 next week and starts at the U in September. But it will pay off for her younger brother and sister, her dad says.

Connolly is quick to point out that money for the State Fair drawing doesn’t come from taxpayers — it’s donated by the Minnesota Private College Council and TIAA-CREF, which administers the accounts.

The message, though, is that it’s never too early to start saving. “I just opened accounts for my granddaughters … right after they were born,” she said.

But it’s about more than money, she noted. “It also helps your kids believe that college is in their future.”

For more, go to mnsaves.org.

maura.lerner@startribune.com

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