Parents are being advised to start saving for their child's education from as early as possible, to minimise the financial worries that arise when they are accepted to a university or college.
Canadian-based company, Heritage Education Funds International, has been helping families achieve this goal for almost 30 years. The agency, which is the distributor of the Heritage International Scholarship Trust Plan, is dedicated to helping parents around the world save for the cost of higher education.
The organisation has a number of regional offices in the Caribbean, including Jamaica, Bahamas, Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands.
President and Chief Executive Officer, Heritage Education Funds International, Jason Maguire, says the organisation's main goal is to help parents save for their child's education starting from birth up to 13-years-old.
"Heritage Education Funds International is here to help you, because education continues to go up in terms of cost," he says.
He notes that because of the global financial crisis, many people around the world have lost their jobs, and as a result, have decided to go back to school. "So you have pressure on the education system right now, because you have these students who are coming up who are looking to go sit in a seat at a university or college, but now you add on the unemployed who are looking to refine their skills and get new skill sets," he says.
"They're putting pressure from the top and organisations, universities and colleges see that as an opportunity, because if I have something that a lot of people want, I'm going to increase my price," he reasons. "[It's] the law of supply and demand," he says.
Mr. Maguire informs that at present, international students pursuing tertiary education can expect to spend at least US$145,000 for a four year programme, while local students may spend about US$60,000 to US$80,000.
He therefore notes that saving in advance to finance your child's tertiary education is more necessary now than ever before. This is where the Heritage Education Fund comes in, he says.
Agency Director in Jamaica, Lyndie Headley, explains that the agency helps parents save in United States dollars until the children reach age 18 years.
"When the child gets to 18-years-old, we return the principal amount to them, minus a small administrative fee. They then take that principal that they have saved and apply to their children's first year at University," Mr. Headley explains.
Making the grade
He further informs that Heritage Fund International Scholarship Trust Plan will then pay for the final three years of the child's education through a cash scholarship. Payments are made each year and are tenable at any recognised or accredited tertiary institution anywhere in the world.
"All the children need to do to receive this scholarship, is go to school and make passing grades," he informs.
The Plan allows parents to save up to a minimum of US$12 per month and the savings plan can be tailored to fit the savings options that the parent can afford. Parents are also able to add to the amount at a later date as their situation improves.
The savings option can also be closed for whatever reason and parents will receive their savings, less an administrative fee. There are no penalties for this decision, however, the interest will remain in the pool.
Additionally, if the parent runs into hard times, there are stipulations in the savings plan, which gives them a reprieve. There are also allowances for death of a spouse or if the child decides not to attend university.
Minister of Education, Rev. the Hon. Ronald Thwaites, says the programme offered by the Heritage Fund is of extreme significance to Jamaica.
He encourages parents across the country to recognise the importance of saving for their children's education and not to assume that anyone else is "going to be able to pick up those costs".
He notes that as much as the government might like to, it simply cannot afford to provide financing through the Students' Loan Bureau to all students.
"The State does not have an obligation and cannot assume an obligation to educate all of those who would wish to go on to the tertiary level. It simply is not possible and we had better recognise it," he states.
Mr. Thwaites further notes that it was a "sad fact" that there are hundreds of Jamaicans, who have done well in the secondary arena, but simply cannot go any further academically because of a lack of financing.
He points out that as the cost of education continues to increase, it has become increasingly difficult for the government to afford to pay the tuition of every Jamaican who is desirous of a tertiary education.
"What the government contributes to this sector is diminishing in real terms as we concentrate upon the Charter Rights and obligations that we have," he remarks.
In highlighting the benefits of the Heritage Trust, Parent and Beneficiary, Ian Myrie, informs that he enrolled in the programme some 16 years ago and has since reaped the rewards.
He encourages, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles to get involved, as it benefits the entire family in the long run. "It is something that will reap excellent rewards," he says.
"I recall when I started the (Jamaican) dollar was $45 to one (United States dollar), and I was saying ‘oh my God, how am I going to survive over the next few years?' Thinking back now, if I did not save with this plan what would I have done? That money would have been spent," he says.
Since the organisation started operations in Jamaica they have paid out, in principal and scholarships, in excess of US$13 million with close to 10,000 persons involved in the savings plan.