Standing before a room full of students Thursday at Wilson Elementary School, Oklahoma Treasurer Ken Miller asked the group what they wanted to be when they grew up.
Hands flew up. One girl wanted to be a marine biologist. Another student said she'd like to be an engineer. Others said they wanted to be teachers, dentists or veterinarians.
Those are all good plans, Miller told the students, but most of them would require a college education. But going to college isn't free, he said. Do you think it's cheap, he asked, or expensive?
“Expensive!” the students shouted back in unison.
A new sweepstakes Miller unveiled Thursday will help one Oklahoma student cover that expense. Under the 10,000 Reasons to Save Sweepstakes, the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan will give one student $10,529 toward a college savings account. The student's school will also receive another $10,529 in cash. The sweepstakes ends Nov. 15.
“We want to get the message out,” he said. “One way we can help draw attention to that is by giving away free money.”
Miller, who serves as the chairman of the college savings program, said the sweepstakes is designed to draw attention to the importance of saving for college. Prize money comes from the program's sponsor, financial service company TIAA-CREF, Miller said. No state funds are used for the awards, he said.
Miller told students at Wilson Elementary School that it's important for them to do well in school to be ready for college. But it's also important that their parents or grandparents start making financial plans now, he said.
About 69 percent of Oklahoma parents haven't set aside money for college, Miller said, topping the national average of 63 percent.
The sweepstakes is the first of its kind the college savings program has held, Miller said. The program also gives away money through other events, including an annual $5,529 sweepstakes prize for parents of newborns and essay contests for Oklahoma students.
Miller said he hopes to see the 10,000 Reasons to Save Sweepstakes will continue. By promoting college savings, the program helps Oklahomans reach educational goals they have for their children and grandchildren, and also helps the state reach a policy goal, he said.
In 2011, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin called for an additional 20,400 degrees and certificates awarded in Oklahoma each year until 2023. That goal is a part of Complete College America, a nationwide initiative designed to boost college completion.
Parents and grandparents interested in entering the 10,000 Reasons to Save Sweepstakes can fill out an entry form at www.ok4saving.org.