Can Mr. Rogers Help Hike 529 Plan Usage?

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By Brian O'Connell

March 20, 2019

The College Savings Plan Network (CSPN) is teaming up with Fred Rogers Productions to promote the benefits of a 529 college savings plan. The partnership is aiming their educational campaign at two-year-old eyes locked in on the highly-watched children’s TV show “Daniel Tiger” and the parents who mind them.

The notion of the Fred Rogers brand riding to the rescue is an intriguing one, especially as the promotional campaign comes at a time when parents appear to be giving college 529 plans short shrift.

According to industry data, less than one-third of U.S. parents are even aware that college 529 plans exist. What’s more, less than 18 percent of children nationwide are enrolled in a 529 plan.

The Daniel Tiger TV advertisement campaign is actually as much about curbing student loan debt as it is about leveraging the benefits of a college 529 plan. No doubt, the two are intertwined and the media campaign points to the many benefits of saving for college, instead of relying on student loans.

That’s a good strategy, as over 70 percent of college students graduate with student loan debt, but, as noted above, only 18 percent of American kids have a college 529 plan working for them.

To turn that ratio around, expect the CSPN’s 529 for College initiative to point out the boundless benefits of saving for college, with these themes highlighted:

  • 529 college savings plans are the antidote to burdensome student loan debt. With 529 plans, every dollar you save is one less dollar you’ll have to borrow in the form of student loans.
  • Saving for college with a long-term college 529 plan can significantly reduce or even eliminate student loan debt.
  • College savings increases flexibility in college choice because it enables your student to enroll in a more expensive college than you otherwise could afford.

Mr. Rogers to the Rescue?

Given the critical nature of the student loan debt crisis, can Mr. Rogers Neighborhood save the day on college 529 plans?

27 U.S. state governments seem to think so.

Altogether, the initiative includes those 27 states, along with 46 high-profile supporters including state treasurers, higher education agencies, financial services firms, and non-profit groups like Fred Rogers Productions.

“More than 44 million Americans have student debt that eats away at paychecks, limits opportunities and leads them to put off buying homes and having children,” says Young Boozer, 529 Campaign Chairman. “We’re joining together to set our kids and grandkids on a better path with 529s.”

While television shows like Daniel Tiger, developed by Fred Rogers Productions, are aimed at the younger set, the goal is to get the attention of moms and dads who watch alongside their kids.

“We want parents to know that by consistently investing a little at a time and using a 529 College Savings Plan, they can prevent their children from having insurmountable debt,” says Betty Lochner, a 529 Plan campaign coordinator and former administrator for Washington’s 529 College Savings Plans.

“The states involved are as diverse as Washington and Texas, Utah and New York, California and Tennessee,” Lochner adds. “Though we may have differing philosophies, we are working together to reach the estimated 68 percent of Americans who haven’t heard of this tool that lessens reliance on student loans.

The 18-month 529 campaign will air a series of 15-second broadcast spots promoting the 529 Campaign before and after the popular Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood show. Media industry data shows the series to be one of the most popular children’s television shows, giving the 529 Campaign a high-level platform to reach American families.

According to Fred Rogers Production, the partnership will also yield . . .

  • Banners and clickable 529 College Savings Plans logos that lead to the organization’s website for the Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood page on the PBS Parents website and PBS Kids video players.
  • Downloadable activity and information sheets featuring Daniel Tiger and other characters from the series on the 529 College Savings Plan website and in marketing materials aimed at U.S. households.
  • 529 College Savings Plan information will also appear on the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood website. also provides its own tools for spreading the word about 529 plans, such as a downloadable poster about the benefits of saving for college, conversation starters and sample social media posts.

A good place to start:

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