Parents have only a week left to apply for the Florida prepaid college tuition plan and lock in this year's rates for their child. More than 33,000 Floridians have already purchased plans this year, but many legislators fear the governor's proposed state budget could be the beginning of the end for the popular program.
Ten-year-old Rachel Roberts' mom enrolled her in Florida's prepaid college plan when she was just four.
“She thought about me working and that I wouldn't have to if she had already paid off my college, and all I'd have to do was like, maybe find an apartment and pay for food. That's all I'd have to do and so I could focus on my studies,” says Rachel.
The prepaid plan locks in tuition at the current rate when the child is enrolled, but the plan was not designed to withstand explosive tuition hikes.
If the governor's proposed budget passes the legislature, tuition will have gone up 16 percent in just two years, and the prepaid reserve fund is already down by more than half from last year's tuition hike.
House minority leader Doug Wiles says tuition will have risen 39 percent over the past five years if lawmakers agree with the governor's proposed rate hike. He fears they're going down a bad path.
“That is a huge, record-setting increase that we shouldn't be very proud of because it means more kids won't be able to go to college and a lot more kids won't be able to get their education if we see the demise of the prepaid program,” says Rep. Doug Wiles.
Rachel's mom says she's keeping a close eye on the legislature.
“I'm just hoping that with the interest that there has been in this program and the fact that it is such a good program, that maybe it will make it through all the uncertainty,” says Patty Roberts.
She says she wants prepaid to be there as promised when Rachel's ready to pursue her dreams. Gov. Jeb Bush says he's been assured the prepaid college tuition plan could withstand a 7.5 percent tuition hike this year.
Right now children are only guaranteed to receive the full benefits of the plan if they are within five years of graduating high school.
Rep. Ken Gottlieb of Miramar has sponsored a bill that would guarantee the plan for a full 18 years so even newborns would be protected. The current enrollment period ends January 30.
Parents can call 1-800-552-GRAD or log on to www.florida529plans.com for more information or to enroll their child.