Tallahassee, Florida - Here's a new figure that will make your head spin: a college education in 18 years is projected to cost $140,000.
That's right. $140,000.
The estimate comes from the folks who operate Florida's Prepaid College Plans. This week open enrollment begins for the state's four prepaid tuition plans, but some of the prices are so high they're unaffordable for many families.
It'll cost you a lump sum payment of more than $53,000 to buy a four-year university plan for a newborn, or $331 a month for the next 18 years. That's the most expensive of the four available tuition plans.
Two years at a state college followed by two years at a university costs $222 a month. That's the 2+2 Florida Plan.
The 4-Year Florida College Plan, which provides four years at a state college, runs $112 a month.
The 2-Year Florida College Plan is the cheapest option. It gets a student two years at a state college for $51 a month.
Florida's university prepaid tuition program has been decimated in recent years by the Legislature's decision to allow big tuition hikes of up to 15 percent a year.
The university plans used to make up 80 percent of sales but now that figure has dropped to 38 percent, according to Prepaid College Plans spokeswoman Susan James.
"I think the decline is driven by cost. Families at this point don't feel comfortable taking on a $331 payment. Many families do want to, but many families are also looking at a 2+2 Plan as an alternative. That's basically how kids are using their plans today is they're attending a two-year Florida college and then they're moving on to a state university for two years."
James says the most popular, and most affordable, way to get a baccalaureate degree is with the 4-Year Florida College Plan. It covers four years of tuition and fees at a state college.
"As you see the pricing continuing to rise for the 4-Year University Plan, we are seeing a lot more interest in the 4-Year Florida College Plan and the 2-Year Florida College Plan. Our families want to save, budgets are tight and to achieve a baccalaureate degree for about $111 a month, that's very appealing to a family in Florida."
Twenty-two of Florida's 28 community colleges now offer baccalaureate degrees. Over the past five years, enrollment in those baccalaureate programs has quadrupled from about 5,000 students to more than 20,000.
While the cost of university tuition plans may have moved beyond many families' reach, James says the plans are still a great deal because they offer certainty.
"You purchase a plan and your payments don't go up. You're insulated from future tuition and fees increasing, which we don't know what they're going to be. So basically it's really important for a family to see what they can afford, to lock into something and to begin the payment process for it and have their child be able to not have that debt."
Florida offers other plans to prepay other fees, such as dormitory living, local fees and tuition differential. James says those other fees and expenses can really add up so even if you already have a prepaid tuition plan, it's worth considering buying a fee plan.
You can get more information at www.myfloridaprepaid.com or call 1-800-552-GRAD (4723).