Like all parents of each succeeding generation, we have always wanted our children to have more opportunities and a better life than we've had. Many of our grandparents were immigrants who came to this country with little more than the clothes on their backs and a pocketful of optimism. If they were lucky, they learned how to read and write with the help of a few years of grade school. They struggled in difficult jobs in order to make a good life for their children.

Our parents' generation had high school and maybe trade school education, and survived the Great Depression and World War II. They worked at blue collar jobs and impressed on us to go to college and "make something" of our lives.

We were the first in our families to have college educations. We both worked long hours at hard jobs to earn enough to pay our tuition at Cleveland State University during the 1960s, in its second freshman class, crammed to the seams in temporary quonset hut classrooms. We delivered mail, flipped hamburgers, raked hot tar onto roofs, ran drill presses, and photographed weddings. We were constantly sleep-deprived, working late hours, putting in a little studying, even less sleep, then off to classes. We started our married life a year after graduation, relieved that we had no college debt hanging over our heads, and continued to be frugal and work hard to get one of us through four years of law school, also at CSU. We were building for the future of our family.

We wanted our two daughters to attend college without having to work as hard as we had, and to receive their degrees and begin their careers without being burdened with debt. A program called the CollegeAdvantage made that dream possible.

When our girls were little, we were building a home and business, and there was no extra money to set aside as we struggled from paycheck to paycheck. We were grateful for the U.S. savings bonds that older family members gave the girls for birthdays and Christmas. "These are for your education," we'd explain when they would tell us they'd rather have a Barbie Dream House. We knew those few bonds and the contents of their piggy banks wouldn't be nearly enough when the time came.

When our oldest was in middle school, we heard about CollegeAdvantage. We carefully paid into the program regularly, and asked the older family members to contribute in lieu of other gifts. Both girls worked very hard to earn good grades, participated in extra-curriculars such as chorus, band, sports, and service organizations. Both volunteered in the community as well.

Our oldest decided to attend Miami University to major in finance, and during her four years she headed the co-ed business fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi, and ran the school's credit union. She also sang in the chorus, which performed throughout the U.S. and Europe. She spent a semester studying in Luxembourg. Without the help of CollegeAdvantage, these opportunities would not have been possible for us to afford. She now works as a trust advisor for a major bank.

Our other daughter decided to attend Muskingum College. She used her CollegeAdvantage funds and won scholarships. She majored in speech/communications with an emphasis on Spanish. She studied in Spain for one semester, and returned to Spain after her 2003 graduation to teach English at the university level for one year. She has since earned a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from Western Carolina University. She teaches English as a Second Language at the junior high level.

We now have four grandchildren, whose moms and dads understand the importance of a college education. The minute our grandchildren were born, we set up CollegeAdvantage 529 accounts for each one. We contribute to each account on birthdays and other holidays, and have recruited the other grandparents, aunts and uncles to do so as well. Both the girls and their husbands contribute each payday to their children’s accounts. They know how important it is to get a college degree, and how difficult it is to pay for it without having a plan.

It takes discipline and sometimes sacrifice to prioritize the budget to include contributions to CollegeAdvantage, but it's an investment in the children's future. They are carrying on the dreams of the generations who have gone before them. There is no more important goal.

Ed and Diane Ryder

Chagrin Falls Ohio

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