By Patricia Roberts
Managing Director
AllianceBernstein Investments
Nov. 17, 2014

College Board

I recently returned inspired in so many ways from the College Board 2014 Forum.  I was particularly moved by the FirstGen Student Panel moderated by John Quiñones of ABC News. Like John, these amazing students were the first in their families to attend college. They spoke of their challenging and courageous journeys to and through higher education and the positive impact college is having on them and on those whose lives they touch. The combination of John’s own powerful story and theirs presented a valuable reminder of the vital role that education plays in opening doors and the many rewards that perseverance brings.

At the end of this moving discussion, John inquired of one of the panelists, “If there’s one thing that these folks in the audience could do to help students like you, what would it be?”

While looking directly into the emotion-filled audience of conference attendees, the young man thoughtfully replied, “The one thing I would say to each and every one of you today is [to][/to] be that one person that just reaches out and touches a student and brings out that determination and ability that is perhaps hidden in them…We all need one person to help bring it out.”  The student graciously scanned the audience, and continued, “Why not you? Why not you? Why not you?” After pausing for just a second, he wound up with a touching “Why not?”

His simple, but poignant, question of “Why Not?” has remained with me.

As we prepare to gather with friends and family during the holiday week ahead and to give thanks for all we have, why not reflect on what we each may be able to do “to be the one” to offer inspiration and support to one or more young persons?

How might we do this?

  • Consider offering your encouragement, your time and/or your perspective.  It often takes only one person or one experience to inspire another. Take the time to inquire about a young person’s interests and strengths or to identify and discuss talents that he or she may not be able to see in him or herself. Have age-appropriate conversations about career and educational interests.
  • Consider investing in (versus spending on) those for whom you plan to select a gift this holiday season.  Most 529 college savings programs enable account owners to conveniently invite friends and family to contribute to established college savings accounts. If you’re an account owner, be sure to let others know that a gift of education is one you would welcome. If you’re a gift giver and prefer a smart and easy choice, ask if a 529 contribution would be welcomed instead of, or in addition to a smaller, more traditional gift.
  • Consider thinking outside the box and inspiring future students who are part of any number of programs that provide matches and other incentives to encourage their low-income families to save for college.  National studies show that even a small amount of college savings can go a long way in raising the aspirations of those who may otherwise not have envisioned a future that includes higher education.

During the holidays of gratitude and giving that are just around the corner, we are presented with timely and priceless opportunities to offer meaningful gifts that have the potential of changing lives.  In light of this valuable prospect, I ask, “Why Not>?”

About the Author:
Patricia Roberts is a Managing Director at AllianceBernstein where her sole focus is on Rhode Island’s CollegeBoundfund, one of the nation’s largest advisor-sold college savings program with over $7 billion in assets under management. She has been involved in nearly every aspect of the college savings arena for more than 15 years as an attorney, product manager, state relationship manager, passionate advocate, public speaker and as a mom, saving for her son Benjamin’s education. She is chair of the College Savings Plans Network Corporate Affiliates, chair of its Multi-Cultural Outreach and co-chair of its Strategic Partnership Committee. She also plays an active role on other committees including Media Relations, Federal Initiatives and Legal and Regulatory Affairs.