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Aligning Florida Colleges with Workforce Needs, and Other College Savings Happenings

State leaders this summer are focused on aligning students’ college journeys to Florida workforce needs, and Governor Rick Scott is championing an initiative that encourages students to complete college degrees more efficiently — a strategy that also can help them make the most of their Prepaid Plans. A roundup of happenings in the higher education and college savings arena:

“Finish in Four, Save More”: That’s the campaign Governor Rick Scott kicked off earlier this summer, armed with the sobering statistic that fewer than half of undergraduates at public universities in Florida — 44 percent — now earn their degrees within four years. Another 27 percent take six years to graduate. Governor Scott is urging students to save money by finishing their degrees on time. The Orlando Sentinel editorial board is among those in support.

Higher Education, Workforce Minds Think Alike: At the first-ever State Higher Education Workforce Summit earlier this summer, business leaders, elected officials and education leaders gathered in Orlando to discuss how state colleges and universities can better turn academic degrees into high-paying jobs: The summit featured Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Senate President Andy Gardiner and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, plus the state university system’s Board of Governors and trustees and presidents of universities and state colleges. Also attending were reps from companies such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Florida Blue, and CVS.

Grandparents Gifting College Educations: It looks like grandparents are increasingly choosing the lasting gift of a college education over gifts that deliver shorter-term fun. And 529 Plans (we offer the Florida 529 Savings Plan) are a popular option for more simple ‘gifting.’ According to a Fidelity Investments survey of its investors, more than half of grandparents “are saving or plan to start saving to help pay for college costs.” The New York Times recently featured grandparents who are stepping in to help pay for college.

The Debt Burden: A few recent reports and data points really drive home why saving for college now can prevent major stress and headaches later. First, Fair Isaac Corp, known for its FICO credit scores, has found that more than one in three young adults worry about amount of debt they’re carrying. Thirty-seven percent of millennials (aged 25-34) are concerned about their debt levels, and their biggest debt loads come from mortgages and student loans. Nearly one-third of those polled say they owe at least $20,000 on student loans. Ouch….

And here in Florida, we just got the distinction of being ranked among the 10 worst states for repaying college debt. recently analyzed all 50 states to find out where Americans are struggling to pay off college debt the most, based on seven data factors, including median annual income adjusted for inflation for degree holders, percentage of graduating class with student debt, and job prospects. In Florida, only 56 % of college graduates have started to make college debt payments, the lowest percentage on the list. Ouch again…

Given all of that debt load, it’s not too surprising that more high schoolers are already planning to live at home to cut college costs. The Washington, D.C.-based College Savings Foundation found that for the first time this year, a majority of high school students — 53 percent — plan to eliminate the dormitory expense altogether and live at home. Pssst: Florida Prepaid also has Dormitory Plans.

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