To hear critics tell it, 529 plans are little more than a tax haven for the yachting class.
When President Barack Obama proposed in his State of the Union address taxing withdrawals from these college savings accounts, only to scrap the idea in the face of bipartisan opposition, he argued that they largely served to provide tax breaks for the wealthy.
Read MoreObama + tax reform = political storm
But a closer look reveals that many participants are not as well off as some have suggested, and many people using the plans still have a way to go before they can hope to cover the cost of college.
"The middle class is the largest grouping out there, and they are the ones that by and large are using 529 plans," said Joe Hurley, founder of savingforcollege.com.