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State tuition program reopens enrollment

Florida's prepaid college tuition program opened a three-month window for enrollment Monday.

With more than 900,000 accounts already purchased, the plan is the largest in the nation. The program guarantees a child's tuition at any state public university or community college.

By locking in the price at today's tuition rates, families get a break on about half the cost of sending a child to a public university in 18 years.

Students with prepaid tuition plans can also opt for an accredited private school or an out-of-state school but the plan then provides a value comparable to the cost of tuition at a state public school.

The actual cost to families varies depending on type of plan and age of child _ but it's more than it was. For example, a four-year university tuition plan for a newborn will cost $9,567 or $68 a month, up 16 percent from last year's price of $8,241.

Prepaid plans everywhere are under pressure as a result of rising tuition rates and declining investment returns. That deadly combination has prompted five states to close plan enrollment at least temporarily: Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Texas and Colorado.

Despite the higher prices, Stanley Tate, chairman of the plan, said he still expects at least 100,000 accounts to be opened during the next three months.

The program, which has some $5.3-billion in assets, is managed by private money managers but is financially guaranteed by the state.

Almost half of the families that use it earn less than $50,000 a year, and 82 percent are under $70,000, Tate said. Nearly a quarter of contract holders during the past five years have been minorities.