Though they had only two months together, Gloria Stanczak and her great-granddaughter, Leigha Bowden, are inextricably linked.
Beyond the usual biological familial ties, Gloria and Leigha shared the middle name of June.
And, in about 17 years from now when 1-year-old Leigha is ready to go to college, she’ll have her great-grandmother to thank for covering a sizable chunk of the expenses.
Before she died in January 2017 at the age of 94, Gloria bought two years’ worth of prepaid tuition on Leigha’s behalf from the Michigan Education Trust (MET), the program administered by the Michigan Department of Treasury that allows contract purchasers to lock in future college tuition at today’s lower prices.
Her purchase, along with another year of MET prepaid tuition bought by Leigha’s maternal grandparents – Pam and Lynn Brady of Macomb County’s Clinton Township – means that Leigha’s college education was largely paid for before she could even crawl.
“She was born in November 2016, and on her first Christmas, she received three years of college credits,” Pam Brady said of the gift she, her husband and her mother combined to buy. “My daughter and her husband were in shock when they opened up the package for Leigha because 18 years from now, who knows what college is going to cost?”
Leigha’s gift of higher education continued what has become a family tradition. Her mother, Ashley Bowden, also was the beneficiary of MET prepaid tuition purchased by her parents and grandparents.
“We’re just into education,” Pam Brady said, adding that neither she nor her husband or her parents hold college degrees but came to believe higher education was necessary for success in today’s world. “We just know how important it is in order to have a decent life. We just wanted better for our child. We wanted her to have a good start in life and just have the opportunity to be what she wanted to be.”
As she was growing up, her family lived comfortably, Brady said, but her mother had to scrimp and save. “She saw if she had a degree, look at what more they could have had,” she said.
And beyond earning a college degree, Brady said, one of the keys to a good life is graduating without a mountain of student loan debt – as Ashley was able to do thanks to her parents’ MET prepaid tuition purchases.
“She got through the four years and we and she paid a few extra dollars for books and things, and she came out of college debt-free,” Brady said. “She’s incredibly thankful. She always says, ‘I don’t know anyone else who came out of college with no debt.’”
MET throughout 2018 is celebrating its 30th year as the nation’s first prepaid tuition program. The appeal of the plan is based on a simple premise: With tuition rates having steadily risen throughout the years, it’s a no-lose proposition to lock in costs now at today’s lower prices.
MET’s prepaid tuition, which is purchased in credit hour or semester increments, is portable to out-of-state and Michigan private colleges and universities, may be transferred to other eligible family members and is refundable if the student does not attend college.
The Brady family’s MET journey began in the late 1980s, after Ashley was born in 1985. They had heard about the fledgling MET program from a friend who worked for the state.
“We were just saving in the bank at the time,” Pam Brady said. “It would have never been near enough to cover all the credits.”
Ashley’s grandparents – Gloria and her husband, Ed – bought two years of MET community college tuition, which Ashley used to attend Macomb Community College after graduating from L’Anse Creuse High School. The bachelor’s degree in nursing she went on to earn from Oakland University was funded by two additional years of MET tuition purchased by her parents.
Having not used all her MET tuition, and armed with a scholarship from the hospital where she was working along with the wages she was earning as a nurse, Ashley returned to Oakland to obtain a master’s degree – also without incurring debt.
Ashley, who lives in Macomb with her husband, Jason, is now a nurse practitioner for a local orthopedic surgeon.
Beyond their contributions to her college education, her grandparents also influenced her career choice. As young Ashley’s primary babysitters, they would take her to Ed’s chemotherapy treatments, where the nurses would dote on Ashley and fill a bag with basic first aid equipment, which she would use to “take care of Papa” after their return home.
“That was her first exposure to the medical field, and since she always had a caring personality, it was kind of a natural career choice,” Pam Brady said.
The Brady family is also satisfied with their choice of college savings vehicles.
“I’m an evangelist and advocate for MET,” Pam Brady said. “I tell everyone about it. It couldn’t have been a better investment.”
More information about the Michigan Education Trust is available at SETwithMET.com or 800-MET-4-KID.