Breaking down barriers to higher education affordability: 529 savings made easy with Oregon Savings and Bottledrop

In a little under four years, Oregon residents have saved more than $1 million towards the college education of 5,000 young Oregonians – all by recycling bottles and cans.

Tackling the affordability of higher education takes big thinking, and sometimes it’s the small changes that have ripple effects beyond penny savings. The Oregon College Savings Plan (OCSP) has been partnering with BottleDrop since 2019 on an innovative program to encourage saving, even with the smallest deposits.

Between 2000 and 2017, the average cost to attend a public four-year university rose by 275%, and while that increase has slowed more recently, tuition fees alone can be unattainable for some. Research conducted for Sallie Mae bank found families spent $25,313 on average for higher education costs in 2021/22, with income and savings funding more than half that sum.

While the most cost effective way to save for education expenses is a 529 savings account — and their popularity is increasing — some potential savers are put off by common misconceptions around who can contribute to and use a 529 account, as well as where and how the funds can be applied. Broadly available, 529 plans have recently become more flexible, both in terms of contributions and use, following the passing of the SECURE 2.0 Act in December 2022. There are also some families who, because they are already battling rapidly rising living costs, believe that saving for higher education programs is beyond their means.

Recognizing these obstacles, OCSP has implemented state-level strategies and ideas to address the affordability of saving for higher education. OCSP actively works to remove barriers and broaden access to 529 savings, helping to realize the vision of their board and State Treasurer Tobias Read, to make saving for education simple and accessible to all Oregonians. The program offers statewide incentives to open accounts for young children with a $25 match to kickstart their savings, allowing more time for families to benefit from account growth. Through partnerships with regional organizations, OCSP identifies and works with diverse and underserved communities, seeding accounts to help families that may not have the means to start saving on their own. Anyone who contributes to an OCSP account is also eligible for a refundable tax credit of up to $340 each year.

What’s more, through OCSP's popular partnership with BottleDrop, it is easy to involve a community (friends, family, neighbors) in contributing to 529 savings. Oregon residents can easily deposit bottle and can refunds from a single BottleDrop account into multiple OCSP accounts, leveraging the power of community and contributing to education savings for little-to-no cost. Because BottleDrop participants can contribute to any OCSP account, communities of all kinds can play a role in saving for education.

In this way, OCSP is showing how even small savings can make a difference, encouraging sustainable practices and community spirit.

OCSP accounts are administered by Vestwell, a modern savings platform built to deliver an exceptional experience for their clients. One way they do this is by supporting innovative contribution methods like BottleDrop, another is by using Flywire to digitize 529 disbursements. This speeds the payment process, eliminating paper checks and easing the stress often associated with paying a tuition bill on time. Institutions and students alike benefit from this industry-changing technology because it offers fast delivery in an environmentally friendly way.

Want to learn more about how Flywire eases the 529 disbursement process for providers and institutions?