Surveys show that less than a third of parents are aware of 529 college savings plans. Even more shocking, however, is the number of children with 529 plans. Less than 18 percent of children under age 18 have a 529 plan.

18 percent under 18

This chart shows the percentage of children under age 18 who have a 529 plan. It is based on the number of open 529 plan accounts, as reported by the College Savings Plan Network (CSPN), and the number of children under age 18, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Percent of children under age 18 with 529 plans

529 plans

Source: CSPN, U.S. Census Bureau

Changes in the percentage of children with 529 plans

The steep slope in this chart through 2006 is due to states adding 529 plans, as families ramped up investments in the new 529 plans. So, while the percentage of children with 529 plans grew by an average of 1.9 percentage points per year in the early days of 529 plans, the growth since 2010 has increased at a more sedate pace of 0.6 percentage points per year.

The drop in 2009 is due to the economic downturn, which caused about 10 percent of families to pull out of 529 plans. The number of 529 plan accounts decreased from 11.2 million in 2008 to 10.1 million in 2009 and 2010, a 1.1 million decrease, as people panicked and locked in losses.

There was also a drop in the number of children under age 18 from 74.2 million in 2010 to 73.6 million in 2014, a 610,000 decrease. This change is possibly a delayed impact of the economic downturn. But, while the number of new children may have decreased, the number of children age 1-17 is fairly stable. So, the change in the percentage of children with 529 plan accounts was due more to the change in the number of accounts than in the number of children.

About a quarter of traditional college students have 529 plans

Comparing the percentage of children with 529 plans with the number of high school completers who immediately enroll in college, approximately a quarter of the 2.2 million high school graduates who immediately enroll in college have 529 plans.