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529 college savings plans are for vocational schools, too


This story is sponsored by My529. Learn more about My529.

For years, thanks to study after study, it’s been common knowledge that college graduates earn significantly more than high school graduates, so high school students have been encouraged to seek four-year degrees. But attending a university isn’t for everyone.

The average salary for young adults with bachelor’s degrees is 57 percent higher than those with high school diplomas ($31,800), according to the National Center for Education Statistics, but the costs for that degree are high. Tuition, fees, room and board for just one year range from $20,090 for an in-state public four-year college to $45,370 for a private nonprofit four-year school, according to the College Board. Multiply that times four, and you’ll pay at least $80,000 to $181,000 for a degree.

So, what can a wise high school graduate do to seek a higher income? And what about that 529 college savings plan parents or grandparents set up to help with college costs?

Vocational schools cost less and provide the opportunity for graduates to earn better wages than if they had finished only high school — and 529s can be used for vocational training.

“The average trade school degree costs $33,000, which, compared to (the average) $127,000 bachelor’s degree, means a savings of $94,000,” writes Trent Hamm for The Simple Dollar. “But that’s not all! If you assume that students are fully financing their education with loans at 4 percent over 10 years, the bachelor’s degree will cost $154,000, while the trade school degree will cost only $40,000. That’s a savings of $114,000 just on the degree.”

Factor in wages and a vocational school can be a great alternative for a high school graduate.

“Salaries for trade school graduates aren’t that much of a drop-off compared to a four-year degree,” Hamm writes. “According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, technical and trade school jobs have a median annual salary of $35,720, though this figure varies heavily based on the particular industry and the experience level of the worker. The (Bureau of Labor Statistics) predicted earnings for bachelor’s degree holders to be roughly $46,900, amounting to an annual difference of $11,180.”

There are many well-paying jobs for workers without bachelor’s degrees: 29 million pay between $35,000 and $75,000 a year, according to a joint study by Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce and Civic Enterprises. The study found that career and technical education jobs have largely shifted from blue-collar occupations to white-collar and health care fields.

“For both men and women, the best CTE jobs are in sub-baccalaureate STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and health care, where over 80 percent of jobs pay middle-class wages,” according to the study’s authors. The study contends that the nation’s career and technical education system, which includes vocational schools, “is the missing middle ground in American education and workforce preparation.”

Many people automatically associate 529s or post-high school studies with four-year university degrees. But vocational schools are smart alternatives for students who want to train for a well-paying career as well as save on those infamously high college costs. Plus, that 529 is good toward any postgraduate study, not just four-year colleges.

Vocational schools are eligible educational institutions where 529 funds can be used to pay for qualified higher education expenses. Money saved in a 529 plan, such as My529, can be used to pay expenses, including tuition, mandatory fees, books and even computers at any postsecondary institution — college, university or vocational school — in the United States or abroad that participates in federal financial aid programs.

Today, postsecondary certificates are the second-most common higher educational achievement award after a bachelor’s degree, exceeding associate and master’s degrees, according to the Georgetown study. About 1 million postsecondary certificates are awarded each year. For more information about 529 plans, visit or call 800-418-2551.

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Investing is an important decision. Read the Program Description in its entirety for more information and consider all investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses before investing. For a copy of the Program Description, call 800.418.2551 or visit

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my529 does not provide legal, financial, investment, or tax advice, and the information provided in this document does not contain legal, financial, investment, or tax advice and cannot be construed as such or relied upon for those purposes. You should consult your own tax or legal advisor to determine the effect of federal and state tax laws on your particular situation.