In its annual review of college savings plans, Morningstar awarded 29 plans a gold, silver or bronze rating for 2014.
A total of 64 plans were evaluated, representing approximately 95 percent of the $214 billion in assets invested in 529 plans.
Gold- and silver-rated plans have reasonable fees, strong investment options and capable oversight, according to Morningstar analysts.
Four plans received the highest gold rating. Listed alphabetically by state, the top plans are:
• Alaska’s T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan
• The Maryland College Investment Plan
• Nevada’s Vanguard 529 College Savings Plan
• The Utah Educational Savings Plan
Four silver ratings went to:
• The Michigan Education Savings Program
• The Ohio CollegeAdvantage 529 Savings Plan
• Virginia’s CollegeAmerica plan
• The Virginia529 inVest plan
Bronze ratings went to 21 plans whose advantages outweighed their disadvantages in the opinion of analysts. And 32 plans received a neutral rating -- they are not likely to deliver standout returns but they are also unlikely to significantly underperform their peers.
Arizona's Ivy Funds InvestEd 529 Plan, Kansas's Schwab 529 College Savings Plan and South Dakota's CollegeAccess 529 received negative ratings, indicating that the plans have one or more significant flaws that are likely to hold them back over the long term, according to Morningstar analysts.
The analysts considered five factors when determining a plan's rating: the plan's strategy and investment process; its risk-adjusted performance; the assessment of the plan's manager; the stewardship practices of the plan's administration and parent firm; and whether a plan's investment options were a better value proposition than those of its peers.