How Outdoor Lovers Can Use 529 Plans

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By Lucy Lazarony

July 23, 2020

Looking for an interesting way to spend 529 money?  Why not an Outward Bound course?

You can earn college credit for the Outward Bound courses and 529 plan money can be used for payment for the courses.

What is Outward Bound?

Outward Bound uses wilderness programs and outdoor challenges to inspire personal growth and leadership. Courses are available for middle school, high school, college students and adults. Outward Bound courses feature a range of activities including backpacking, rock climbing, sailing, dog sledding, kayaking, rafting, skiing and snowshoeing and snorkeling.

“Outward Bound originated off the coast of Wales during World War II. What started as an ocean survival training for young sailors turned into a character education program that has lasted almost 80 years,” explains Jason Stout, national outreach director for Outward Bound USA. “In the early 1960’s, the Peace Corps hired the Colorado Outward Bound School to prepare volunteers for life in developing countries.” 

A key aim of Outward Bound is teaching leadership.

“Outward Bound has always had an amazing capacity to build leaders for tough times,” Stout says.  “Our focus on personal growth, increasing levels of insight, risk management, teach students how to pivot and not get stuck in their ways.”

The 529 plan money can be applied to a wide variety of Outward Bound programs.

“Basically, 529’s can be used to pay for our 7 (day) to 85 (day)  outdoor education programs,” Stout says.  “Ages 14+/9th grade or higher are eligible and high school students will receive concurrent credit.  This is made possible through our partnership with Western Colorado University.” 

Using a 529 plan to pay for an Outward Bound course is becoming a popular way to pay.

“Revenue from 529’s has grown from $13k in 2013 to $1.8M in 2019.  In 2020, we have already exceeded $1M,” Stout says. 

And 529 plan money can be used to pay for any Outward Bound course.

“Every course we have is eligible,” Stout says. 

A Whole New Learning Experience

When Ryan Kelly, 20, took a year off college he decided to do an Outward Bound course that took him from Maine to the Bahamas, his father Kevin Kelly paid for the course with a 529 plan.

During the 80-day expedition, Ryan Kelly spent 50 days in Maine canoeing, backpacking and rock climbing and 30 days sailing on a boat in the Bahamas, sailing about 400 miles. 

“We slept on the boat 30 days straight,” says Kelly of Evergreen, Colorado.

They rotated different job roles throughout the course so everyone got the chance to be in a leadership role. There were eight  jobs they each had a chance to do.

“Every day we rotated,” Kelly says.

See also: Coronavirus Crisis Increases Interest in Gap Year

After the course was finished, Kelly felt motivated.

“It’s very interesting. I felt a lot more motivated to write the essays afterwards,” Kelly says.

“It makes me feel confident, motivated. I think resilient is the word. After a whole trip everything seems easy.”

After his essays are complete,  Kelly will receive 12 credits for his semester long course. 

Kelly took a previous Outward Bound course before 9th grade, canoeing in the boundary waters of Minnesota. 

Kelly is so inspired by the Outward Bound programs that he is going to pursue a degree in outdoor education, beginning with a wilderness EMT course in California this summer, that his father is also going to pay for with 529 plan money.

Kevin Kelly said his son’s semester from Maine to Bahamas was a “unique learning experience.”  And he said paying with a 529 plan was just what they were looking for. 

“It was kind of the perfect balance of what we were looking for, academic credit and the ability to finance that with 529 funding that we’d been saving,” Kevin Kelly says.

Use our Financial Aid Calculator to see how a 529 plan can impact financial aid.

How Do You Use a 529 to Pay for Outward Bound?

Using 529 plan money to pay for an Outward Bound course is easy enough, thanks to the program’s partnership with Western Colorado University and its Extended Studies program. 

Anyone can register, you need not be a current Western Colorado University student to apply. Registration only takes a few days to process. Then, it is just a matter of paying for the course with a 529 plan, which is as simple as writing a check.

Next, write essays after the outdoor course has been completed and you will receive college credit for your Outward Bound experience.

A good place to start:

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