SET with MET
Even though they died years ago and initially quit school before earning high school diplomas, Erlean and Verle Gilbert Sr. continue to inspire their family’s pursuit of higher education.
“They were very much in favor of education,” said daughter-in-law Cynthia Gilbert, who with husband Verle Jr. is continuing their legacy by establishing college savings accounts for the family’s younger generations – including the spring 2019 purchase of 10 Michigan Education Trust prepaid tuition contracts to benefit seven grandchildren, two great-nieces and one great-nephew.
“It’s very important to my husband and me that they don’t have a lot of debt from going to college,” she said of the MET beneficiaries, who at the time of purchase ranged in age from 7 months to 15 years.
Technically, it was inheritance money from Cynthia’s father, Carl Armor, who died in January 2019 at age 94, that funded the MET contract purchases.
But it was primarily the example set by her in-laws that influenced Cynthia and Verle Jr.’s decision to devote the funds toward their younger relatives’ future education.
“I guess what it boils down to is we also believe in education and we decided we might as well invest in our family,” Cynthia said.
Setting an example
That mindset was inspired by Erlean and Verle Sr., who were both in their 60s when they returned to school to earn their high school diplomas through the Swartz Creek school district, Erlean in 1985 and Verle Sr. in 1973.
Before then, Erlean had attended school only through the eighth grade and Verle Sr. had left after finishing his sophomore year of high school.
Cynthia is quick to point out that, upon returning to school, they both were adamant about earning their diplomas by completing adult education classes as opposed to taking tests to receive a General Educational Development, or GED, diploma.
“They wouldn’t take the GED,” she said. “They wanted to do it the hard way. They didn’t want to do the short cut.”
They similarly quietly encouraged their grandchildren to set their educational goals high. For example, Erlean would praise each accomplishment. “Then she’d say, ‘You’ve gotten to this benchmark. Now let’s move on to the next one,’” Cynthia recalled.
Sometimes, the “next one” was accomplished with the elder Gilberts’ financial help.
For instance, they covered the costs of obtaining master’s degrees for two of Cynthia and Verle Jr.’s children. Their eldest son, a principal in a Michigan school district, earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Michigan universities, as did their daughter, who serves as a Michigan police officer. Their youngest son, who also has served for years in Michigan law enforcement, has a bachelor’s degree from a state university.
Cynthia and Verle Jr. paid the costs of bachelor’s degrees for all three of their children.
“Both my and Cindy’s parents set good examples for us in that regard,” Verle Jr. said. “We wanted our children to come out of school without debt. We went without on a lot of things to be able to afford to send them to school.
“You don’t have to be rich to send your kids to college,” he said. “You just have to be committed to helping them.”
Verle Jr. and Cynthia themselves have education backgrounds. Cynthia is a retired schoolteacher, while Verle Jr. earned a bachelor’s degree in education before embarking on a career with Genesee County government and then working as a substitute teacher for local school districts in retirement.
Diversifying their savings
Verle Sr., who was a general foreman at a Flint General Motors plant, died in 1988 at age 81. Erlean, who held a variety of jobs throughout her life – including working as a home health aide – was 91 when she died in 2013.
Appropriately, Verle Jr. and Cynthia used the inheritance left by Erlean to begin building college savings for their seven grandchildren. At that time, they opened accounts with the MI 529 Advisor Plan, which like MET is a tax-advantaged Section 529 college savings plan administered by the Michigan Department of Treasury.
While MET allows account holders to lock in future college tuition costs at today’s prices, the MI 529 Advisor Plan, as well as the similar Michigan Education Savings Program, offers a variety of investment options in which families can build savings for all types of qualified college expenses.
The Gilberts opted to go with MET this time around because they liked the thought of ensuring future tuition costs.
“It’s more of a sure thing, having the costs locked in,” Cynthia Gilbert said. “It’s like buying tuition on sale – that’s kind of the way I look at it.”
The Gilberts bought MET Pay-As-You-Go contracts, which allow purchasers to make an initial purchase of a single credit hour of prepaid tuition – as opposed to the minimum of a semester’s worth required by MET’s lump sum and monthly purchase options. Also, Pay-As-You-Go purchasers can add as little as $25 to their accounts whenever they like, a feature that makes it easy for other family members to contribute to the savings.
While the Gilberts’ outlay on MET contracts won’t cover all the college costs for their grandchildren, great-nieces and great-nephew, it’s at least a significant step toward ensuring they’ll have the option of pursuing higher education, Cynthia said.
“They might not all go to college, but at least they have something to help them if they do,” she said.