Beloit College has once again issued its annual “Mindset List,” this time for the class of 2014.

While much of the press uses this list as a way to emphasize new college students’ youth and inexperience, Beloit describes it as a look at the “touchstones” that may color collegians’ thinking now and in the future.

For example, for the Class of 2014, cable TV has always offered hundreds of channels, e-mail has always been too slow, and wristwatches are unnecessary jewelry.

This is truly an electronically integrated, globally oriented class. As far as they are concerned, American companies have always done business in Vietnam, China has always been an economic competitor, and Russians and Americans have always been living together in space. This comfort with the world came with a price tag. Education, cable, travel, camp, computers, PDAs, and data plans are not inexpensive.

I remember thinking about starting a 529 plan in 1998, when they were just gaining momentum and my daughter was halfway through high school. I decided there wasn’t enough time for me to accumulate enough earnings to make a real difference, especially with the income-tax reductions that also occurred. The provisions of the law improved for taxpayers over time, and although my daughter is now managing most of the expense herself, I’d like to be able to revisit that 1998 decision—especially now that I’m looking at helping her with graduate school expenses. With 12 years of hindsight, I now know I did have time.

Many of you have been saving for years, building an education fund to help support that final push through the expensive college and perhaps postgrad years. The average in-state tuition and fees for full-time undergraduate students for 2008–09, before student financial aid was deducted, was $2,601 for a public two-year college and $12,075 for a public four-year university. Private four-year schools averaged $31,969.

We’ve seen total assets invested in 529 plans climb to $104.9 billion in 2008, as many families are using prepaid tuition or college savings plans. So, I’d like to know: Did you take advantage of the 529 vehicle when it became available, or are you taking a different approach to paying for college?

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