College Illinois! enrollment window opens up

By Paolo Cisneros

The annual enrollment period for College Illinois!, a prepaid college tuition program that allows families to pay for tuition in advance, is now open and scheduled to close on April 29, 2008.

The program allows parents and grandparents of children who are not yet in college to begin paying for tuition at current rates to lower the financial impact of higher rates they would otherwise face.

Randy Erford, director of College Illinois!, has been involved with the program since it began.

“The focus of the program was to keep college affordable,” he said.

The program also sought to encourage families to begin thinking about funding college education earlier.

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    “About the time most families start thinking about how they’re going to fund their child’s education, they’re stuck trying to figure out how to pay for something they often can’t afford,” he added.

    College Illinois!, he said, was created in an effort to change that.

    The program offers plans that range from a single semester of tuition to an entire four years and offers tax incentives as well. Those who enroll benefit from a tax deduction, eliminating College Illinois! contributions from their state taxable income, according to collegeillinois.com

    While some potential buyers have expressed concern about investing in College Illinois!, the program is actually a legal contract between the purchaser and the state of Illinois, meaning its benefits are not subject to stock market fluctuations.

    “With most investments you don’t have any backing behind them, but with this program you certainly do,” Erford said. “College Illinois! is a program that provides families with the insurance that the money will be there when they need it.”

    The program’s benefits are applicable in a significant majority of public or private colleges in the country, with the exception of most for-profit schools. A large number of international universities are eligible as well.

    “Ordinarily, as long as the school is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, our plan will cover their tuition,” Erford said.

    The program is also in the midst of celebrating its 10th anniversary through a series of events that are taking place throughout Illinois.

    “The College Illinois! program has a 10-stop tour of locales around the state that are taking place in an effort to get out there and really meet the people,” said Erford. “We wanted to convey that, having been in operation for over a decade now, we’re a very well-established program.”

    Erford added that the goal of the entire College Illinois! program is to help make the dream of a college education a more feasible reality for a greater number of Illinois residents.

    “For most people, their college education is the single biggest investment they’ll ever make aside from buying a home, and even that depends,” he said. “We’re here to help make that investment a more feasible one.”