MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Now at a Target near you: A college education.

“And just in time for Christmas shopping,” West Virginia State Treasurer John Perdue said.

Perdue was referring to the new SMART529 gift card, which is the latest offshoot of the state’s college savings program of the same name.

The treasurer was in Morgantown on Wednesday to talk up the card, now available at Target stores in Morgantown, Bridgeport and Charleston.

With the help of WVU President Gordon Gee, Perdue made a formal introduction at the university’s Child Learning Center in Suncrest.

The card can also be ordered online at, and program particulars are at that link, too.

Perdue, though, said the idea of going to a store and actually holding it before buying it

just might appeal to, say, grandparents looking for a truly practical gift.

“You’re going to outgrow that toy you get,” the treasurer said.

“It’s going to eventually end up on a table in the yard sale. A college degree won’t.”

Gee, who joked that he had “to take in laundry on the weekends” to help pay for his daughter’s college education, said the card will ease the fiscal pain of families grappling with today’s tuition rates.

While West Virginia’s high school graduation rate is a national leader, the number of students who actually go on to college falls near the bottom of the scale.

That’s because many households simply can’t afford to pay, Perdue said.

Young people, he said, either don’t go at all — or find themselves turning their tassels in the shadow of student debt that often takes years to repay.

Purchasers can keep “loading” the card, just like any gift card.

The card may also be used to pay off existing school loans, he said.

Amber Harris happily introduced herself as a card holder at the learning center.

She and her husband are the parents of three children, ages 8, 5 and 18 months. SMART529 will help get all three through college, she said.

“It’s an investment,” she said.

The Mountain State’s SMART529 program, meanwhile, has $2.5 billion in its coffers, Perdue said.

It is issued by the West Virginia College Prepaid Tuition and Savings Program Board of Trustees, and is administered by The Hartford.

Like Harris, Perdue happily introduced himself as a SMART529 pitchman.

“The best thing you can buy for your child is the card,” the treasurer said.

“Do it, so they can start dreaming.”

Story by Jim Bissett