UAF campus

The setting sun illuminates buildings on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus in April 2019.  

Fittingly for May 29, the University of Alaska College Savings Plan is celebrating 529 Day. The day is dedicated to raising awareness for 529 plans, also called qualified tuition plans, which is a way for families to help save money for college over time.

“A 529 is a tax advantaged way for families to save for future education expenses, and it’s named 529 after the IRS tax code, 5-2-9,” said Lael Oldmixon, director of the UA College Savings Plan.

There are three 529 plans in the state of Alaska. They include the T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan, the John Hancock Freedom 529 and the UA College Savings Plan.

“So we celebrate 529 Day by sharing information about college savings plans, as well as other helpful tips that high school students might be able to utilize to help get funding for higher education,” Oldmixon said.

The UA College Savings Plan will be helping raise awareness through a social media campaign.

“I know what we have put together is a little animated clip that will go out on our social media page tomorrow,” Oldmixon said. “All of our social media pages across the country will feature 529 clips and how people can save and ways that they can save.”

Work on 529 plan awareness started earlier in the year, through a partnership with Fred Rogers Productions, founded by the eponymous Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” The UA College Savings Plan worked on commercials that air before each episode of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” on PBS, informing families of 529 plans and their benefits.

They’ll be continuing the partnership by sponsoring another PBS show set to air this summer, “Molly of Denali,” which will be the first national cartoon to feature an Alaska Native lead character.

These efforts follow a February study conducted by a national organization UA College Savings Plan is a part of, the College Savings Plan Network. The study found that, of people surveyed, about a third have heard of 529 plans, but a smaller percentage understand them.

“One third of Americans have heard of 529, but only one in five know what the plan is for,” Oldmixon said.

The goal, she said, is for people to not only know about the plans, but also to be able to understand and be able to use them.

The UA College Savings Plan reached out to partners within Alaska, to help spread the word for May 29. Spirit of Youth, a nonprofit aimed towards promoting and recognizing youth community involvement, is planning to join the social media campaign.

“This is kind of information we aim to share with the youth we work with, but also the UA College Savings Plan has been a great supporter of Spirit of Youth,” said Karen Zeman, executive director.

Since 2011, as part of the organization’s annual Spirit of Youth Awards, Zeman said, award winners have been offered UA college savings accounts, to help with saving for college.

As an example of some of the information Spirit of Youth will be spreading as part of the campaign, Zeman shared a tip about the Alaska Performance Scholarship.

“In order to receive Alaska Performance Scholarship students have to file their FAFSA — that’s that free application for federal student aid — by June 30,” she said.

Zeman said the organization will be posting helpful tips and sharing information about college savings plans from the Spirit of Youth Facebook page and Instagram, @spiritofyouthak, as well as through e-mails from the organization.

“It’s a great tool for saving for college,” Zeman said. “Higher education is getting more expensive every year, so I feel like families need every resource they can access to make college happen.”

Readers can visit 529forcollege.com for tools and more information regarding savings plans.

Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7572.