Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan (OCSP)

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Winners of OCSP Making a Difference Essay contest announced

Five winners each received a $1,529 contribution to OCSP account
Jul 10, 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma State Treasurer Ken Miller today announced the five winners of the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan Making a Difference Essay Contest. Each winner received a $1,529 contribution to his or her college savings account.

“I want to congratulate our winners and thank everyone who participated in the essay contest for sharing their stories, dreams and aspirations for the future,” said Miller, board chair of the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan (OCSP). “It’s our hope that those stories will inspire other families to develop a plan to save for college.”

The winners are Nicole Ellison, Tulsa; Katelyn Cole, Oologah; Gabriel Snyder, Mannford; Amy Smith, Loveland; and Madison Deal, Edmond.

A panel of 32 Oklahoma legislators chose the winning essays in the third biennial edition of the contest. One winner was selected from each of Oklahoma’s five congressional districts. Essay entries were accepted from Jan. 1 to Feb. 15, 2017.

“This wasn’t an easy task for the judges,” Miller said. “This year’s contest had an incredible 527 entries – more than double the number of entries from the last two essay contests combined. Many people shared stories that were compelling, thoughtful, and meaningful. Choosing just one winner from each district was difficult.”

Ellison, of Tulsa, wrote of the challenges her family faced when she was growing up and how education has been key to her success in life.

“No matter my past, education provided a future for myself and my children and that is why I set up a savings plan for all three of my sons,” Ellison wrote. “With education I know they will be able to succeed on their own journeys no matter what life throws at them or where their own personal journey takes them.”

Cole, the winner from Oologah, said she has worked hard in school and this is just one step toward her achieving her dreams.

“My grandparents saw my tremendous want to improve my life: by becoming valedictorian, class vice-president, and a student dedicated to my grades and involvement in five clubs and three sports,” she said. “They decided that my hard work should be rewarded and set up the 529 account. Without this life-changing college savings plan I would have no hope of achieving my goal of becoming a pediatrician.”

Snyder said he is thankful his parents had the foresight to start a plan and is excited about starting college this fall.

“My parents opened a 529 account for me when I was just a newborn, with the dream of me one day attending college,” he said. “Next August, that dream will come true as I attend Northeastern State University. I come from a middle-class working family, therefore my parents make just enough that we are considered ‘too rich’ to receive financial aid assistance, yet we are ‘too poor’ to pay for college.”

Smith, of Loveland, said she knows what it’s like to work and take out loans to pay for college. She didn’t want the same for her children.

“Eight years ago, as a single working mother of three boys, I made the decision to continue my education and pursue a degree in nursing. Although I am very happy with my decision, as the result has helped our family immensely, I had no choice but to take out school loans to pay for tuition,” she wrote. “As the sole household supporter and full-time employee, I didn't have many options available. Because of these personal struggles, I started an Oklahoma 529 plan for my children.”

Deal, the Edmond winner, was two months old when she was diagnosed with craniosynostosis, a condition in which sutures in the skull harden too soon and compress the brain. After a successful surgery, Deal’s mother was told her daughter may never be able to hear perfectly or have normal vision, but she overcame it all eventually.

“The struggles I have gone through have molded me into a strong, caring person,” Deal wrote. “I strive to graduate college with no debt and to become an early education teacher here in Oklahoma, where I have spent my life growing up. The Oklahoma 529 education plan will help me achieve a college degree in elementary education against the odds I was given when I first entered this world!”

The essay winners were recognized during a ceremony at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, where they were able to meet Treasurer Miller and several state lawmakers. They were awarded not only $1,529 toward college savings, but also a special certificate of recognition from the Oklahoma State Senate.

Miller said he is hopeful the winner’s essays will help draw attention to a recent survey* which showed that 63 percent of Americans think saving for college should start at birth. Despite this opinion, the survey showed that only 26 percent of parents start saving for college when their children are born.

“The earlier families develop a plan for paying for college, the more successful they’ll be in avoiding large amounts of student debt,” Miller said. “In many of the essay entries we received from parents, they recalled struggling to pay for college themselves, working and acquiring debt, and they didn’t want the same for their children. I hope those stories inspire more Oklahomans to start saving early.”

To read the winning essays and see photos of the winners, click here.

For more information about opening an OCSP account, go to www.ok4saving.org. Funding for OCSP prizes comes from the marketing budget of the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan; no state funds are used.

About the OCSP

Oklahoma taxpayers may deduct from their Oklahoma adjusted gross income up to $10,000 in contributions to the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan for individual taxpayers and up to $20,000 for taxpayers filing a joint return with a five-year carryforward. Read the Disclosure Booklet carefully.

Any earnings in an OCSP account are federal and Oklahoma income tax-deferred, and distributions are also federal and Oklahoma income tax-free when qualified withdrawals are made to fund an array of student expenses at most institutions of higher learning. Funds may be used at virtually any private or public university, college or career technology center nationwide.

Introduced in April 2000, the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan had more than $800 million in total assets and more than 64,000 accounts, as June 30, 2017.

Consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses before investing in the Oklahoma College Savings Plan. Please visit www.ok4saving.org or call toll-free 1-877-654-7284 for a Plan Disclosure Booklet containing this and more information. Read it carefully.

Check with your home state to learn if it offers tax or other benefits for investing in its own 529 plan. Investments in the Plan are neither insured nor guaranteed and there is the risk of investment loss.

Taxpayers should seek advice based on their own particular circumstances from an independent tax advisor. If the funds aren't used for qualified higher education expenses, a 10% penalty tax on earnings (as well as federal and state income taxes) may apply.

TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc., Program Manager. TIAA-CREF Individual & Institutional Services, LLC, member FINRA, distributor and underwriter for the Oklahoma College Savings Plan.

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*Survey conducted by KRC Research for TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc.

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