Betty Lochner
CSPN Chair and Director of Washington’s GET Program
May 20, 2015

Michelangelo once said “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” To me this quote defines my experience last week at CSPN’s annual conference. As 529 professionals we were inspired to continue to discover, share and create new ways to enhance the services and benefits of our college savings plans for American families.

One of the key topics was the recently enacted federal ABLE Act, which now provides people with disabilities the opportunity to save for future housing, education, training and health care expenses in a tax-free way, much like 529 plans. For the first time since this legislation passed, leading experts from the 529 and disability communities gathered to talk about how to implement these plans on a statewide level in a timely, efficient and effective manner. The generative conversations that took place established a strong working relationship so that the needs, hopes and desires of all interested parties are met.

Representing the disabled community, experts from several national organizations shared their insight and expertise on how implementing the ABLE Act will transform millions of American lives.

While this is just the beginning of a new journey for 529 plans, I am already impressed with the compassion, care and concern for which each state hopes to provide families with disabled individuals with the tools and resources that will have a positive and lasting impact. This process to establish these plans will not be easy, but will be important.

Speaking of meaningful work, the conference also provided a platform to discuss innovative industry best practices as part of our “State of the States” discussion. From matching contribution programs and scholarship essay competitions to academic summer camps and customer loyalty reward programs; the 529 sector is connecting and helping families in new ways.

As we learned, the education marketplace is changing by the minute as non-traditional providers of education are booming with certification programs and trade specific training. Today’s millennial students are more diverse than ever before and are wanting skills that are going to give them the highest paying job as soon as possible. These changing market conditions are altering how colleges recruit students and ultimately how we promote 529 plans.

Digital and grassroots marketing efforts targeting multicultural students and families are essential and critical to the future success and growth of college savings. We’re at a time when community colleges are partnering with corporations at records levels and student financial aid is evolving with new formulas and models. It is absolutely imperative that we learn how to help families navigate these complicated systems so that they maximize their savings and their children’s college education experience.

Moving forward, I am so grateful we have so many bright minds developing new systems, processes and services to better help American families with their college planning and savings. The future of our country is riding on the education and training of our next generation of leaders and I can’t think of a better group of professionals to carry us forward in serving our mission.

About the Author:
Betty Lochner is the Director of Washington’s Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) program. Under her leadership, the GET program has grown from 7,900 to over 153,000 accounts, with a fund valued at over $2.55 billion. Washington is unique in that their only 529 plan offered is a prepaid tuition plan. Lochner currently serves as Chair of the College Savings Plans Network (CSPN).