Education and healthcare retirement plans are using more target date funds and Roth features in their plans, according to the latest 403(b) plan sponsor survey from the Plan Sponsor Council of America.

Specifically, the survey found that nearly three fourths (72.5%) of plan sponsors offer target date funds as an investment option last year, an increase from 69.1% in 2010. The survey also revealed that the number of 403(b) plans permitting Roth after-tax contributions has doubled in the past four years. In 2011, 21.7% of 403(b) plans allowed Roth contributions, up from 16.9% in 2010 and 10.9% in 2007.

Other key findings include:

• The percentage of plan sponsors who don't know their ERISA status is down from 10% in 2010 to 6.8% in 2011.

• Twenty percent fewer sponsors are uncertain over whether they have an investment policy statement.

• The use of email communication has increased (at 65% in 2011 vs. 59.5% in 2010), as has use of seminars/workshops (53% in 2011 vs. 41.8% in 2010). These increases likely reflect participant preferences and cost-efficiency trends, the PSCA said.

• Nearly 40% of plan sponsors made changes to the investment lineup in the last year and nearly 26% plan a comprehensive re-design in the next 12 months.

"The engagement of 403(b) plan sponsors is much higher than in years past,” stated David Wray, president of the PSCA. “They're adjusting to the new regulatory environment, and show a much better understanding of ERISA. In many ways, sponsors of 403(b) plans are catching up to the 401(k) system."