(August 12, 2021) When I started working for the GET Program in 2005, I had a 3-year-old and 1-year-old. At the time I had never heard of a 529 Plan, but I quickly learned the importance of preparing and saving early for my children’s college education.
My husband and I were spending what was equivalent to a mortgage payment to pay for childcare and didn’t have a lot of extra money. It wasn’t until they were both in grade school, and we no longer had the expense of childcare, that we setup GET accounts for each of them.
It was one of the easiest decisions we could ever make. While working in the Contact Center I heard story after story of how thankful our customers were for the benefit of their GET accounts and how they were so relieved they started saving early. So, I set up Custom Monthly Accounts for each of our kids. I decided to make payments through payroll deduction. It was a “fix it and forget it” kind of thing. I also set up the accounts with shorter payment terms and paid them off over 5 years which saved us on finance charges for the Custom Monthly Plan.
We began talking to our kids at a very young age about the importance of a college education. They knew we were saving for them and that we were open about what kind of savings they would have available when they graduated high school.
When my son Ayden was little he wanted to be a fireman. He graduated with the class of 2020 right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was hard on all of us. Most of his senior year was spent sitting in a virtual classroom. He couldn’t do all the normal senior year activities with his friends, but he worked hard and was able to graduate with honors with a 3.6 GPA.
His plan after high school was to attend Washington State. We talked about whether he should wait a year since we knew it would be virtual, but he was so excited about finishing high school and moving on to college that he made the decision to apply. Once he got accepted, he signed up for classes.
I was so hopeful that the year would go smoothly and he would make the best of it. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to experience the dorm life like he hoped for, so I did a little decorating to his bedroom and set it up like he lived in a dorm hoping it would help with the disappointment of not attending in person. But after a while it was clear that he was not enjoying “college life.” He became depressed and stressed about school. He was having a hard time focusing and he realized that remote learning was a huge challenge for him. The hardest part for me was seeing him be so hard on himself. He went from graduating with honors to barely passing his college classes. He thrived when taking classes in person, so he didn’t understand why he was having such a hard time learning remote.
As a mother, I was never worried about Ayden. He was such a chill kid. He was happy, outgoing, determined, and hardworking, but something changed during the pandemic. His dad and I became so worried that we knew it was time to have a conversation with him. We talked about what he wanted to do. Do you want to take a leap year? Do you want to go to a trade school? How about community college? His response crushed me, and the mama tears began to flow. He said he didn’t want to disappoint us. He thought he had to go to college. He knew we saved money for him in GET and we had talked about it so much as he was growing up that he thought that was expected of him.
We had a very long conversation about his health and well-being. We told him we wanted him to be happy and saw that he was really struggling, and his mental health was our biggest concern at that point. We told Ayden that he didn’t have to go to a University. We wanted him to do what was right for him but made it clear that whatever he decided he needed to be able to support himself and his family when the time came. I told him that he could use his GET units not only at a University but also at a Community College, Trade School, or even for an Apprenticeship. He didn’t realize he had other options. So, we encouraged him to start doing some research and figure out what he wanted to do. We would support whatever decision he made.
He knew a few people that were in the lineman trade. So, he decided to research what that would be like. He spent hours watching videos and doing web searches to learn more about it. That sealed the deal. He was hooked. He quickly found a school that he could attend, enrolled, and was accepted. He also decided to get his Commercial Drivers License. At the time, he couldn’t use his GET account for lineman school or to get his CDL since they don’t accept Federal Financial Aid. However, in 2019 the Secure Act passed adding apprenticeships to the list of qualified expenses that students can use 529 savings for. When he’s done with his 10-week training he can use his GET units for the expenses involved with going through an apprenticeship. Whatever GET units he doesn’t use will be transferred to his sister.
In July, he moved to Oregon to attend lineman school. He’s living in my travel trailer near 13 other students who are staying at the same campground during the program. He’s happy to be doing this in person with other students and he’s made some great friends. He loves it. He found his passion and is excited about what he’s learning. He calls to share stories about what happens from day to day. Listening to him talk about climbing a 30-foot power pole has my knees shaking just listening to it. He thinks it’s the coolest thing.
His dad and I couldn’t be prouder. Ayden is passionate about the work he’s doing, excited about what he’s learning and is so much happier. We are thankful that we made the decision so many years ago to begin saving money in the GET program. Covid may have altered his course but we feel our son is right where he’s supposed to be.
By Diana Hurley
GET Contact Center Manager