February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month, which celebrates the schools and vocations in the career and technical education fields. As Ohio's 529 Plan, CollegeAdvantage, celebrates 2024 CTE Month, we wanted to let you know that 529 plans can also be used for required costs for career training at trade, technical or vocational schools, certificate programs, community colleges, and apprenticeships.
529 plans aren’t just for four-year programs
Let’s debunk one big myth about 529 plans — that these accounts can only be used at four-year universities or colleges. Here’s the truth: Ohio’s 529 Plan can be used for whatever education comes after high school. This list includes career training at two-year community colleges, trade, technical or vocational schools, certificate programs, apprenticeships, as well as four-year universities and colleges.
Simply put, you can use the funds in your Ohio 529 account anywhere you are likely comfortable sending your child and your money. Ohio’s 529 Plan can be used nationwide at any educational institution which accepts federal financial aid. If you want to confirm that the schools your child is interested in attending—whether four-year, two-year, trade/vocational, or graduate—accepts federal aid, then do a search to see if the institutions have a Federal School Code on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If it does, then you can use your 529 funds there.
For apprenticeships, the program must be registered with the Secretary of Labor’s National Apprenticeships Act to use a 529 plan withdrawal. Interested parties can check the labor department’s search tool to confirm that a program is eligible for a tax-free 529 withdrawal.
Use your 529 funds at community colleges
Community colleges are an excellent place to start an education after high school. Usually lower in cost than a four-year program, your child can take required core classes that can transfer to other schools. Or they explore different courses at a lower price point while trying to figure out what career best suits them. Your student can earn an associate degree or use the community college as a steppingstone to a traditional four-year university. In either case, a 529 plan can cover qualified high education expenses. The Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) offers you help to transfer those credits earned at a community college to a four-year program.
Use your 529 funds at trade, technical, or vocational schools
If your child attends a federally accredited vocational or trade school after high school graduation, these schools can provide a great education focused on specialized skills. Because of these schools’ close connections to professional trades, your child may graduate with a full-time, well-paying job already lined up. The schools’ areas of expertise can range from broadcasting, cosmetology, culinary arts, diagnostic imaging, graphic design, information technology, massage therapy, mortuary science, nursing, restaurant management, truck driving, to welding to name a few. And if the school accepts federal financial aid, your Ohio 529 account can be used tax-free to pay for qualified costs there.
In Ohio, there is a robust network of trade schools, under ODHE, known as Ohio Technical Centers (OTCs). According to the ODHE website, “OTCs provide post-secondary career and technical education (CTE) through more than 49 career centers across Ohio. These institutions offer programming in the technical skill trades (i.e., HVAC, Phlebotomy, Police Training, EMT, STNA, Welding, Nursing, CNC Machining, etc.) that prepare learners for certificates, industry-recognized certifications, and state licensures.” OTCs are also part of the State of Ohio’s Career-Technical Credit Transfer (CT)2 that aligns educational programs at OTCs to degrees at community colleges and universities.
Use your 529 funds for apprenticeships
A 529 account can also cover qualified costs for approved apprenticeships. The State of Ohio also wants to help interested students find the perfect apprenticeship opportunity and Apprentice.ohio.gov shows the many career apprenticeships available throughout Ohio.
If your child is also interested in earning an associate degree, there are apprenticeship programs in Ohio where participants earn credits towards an associate of technical studies degree. ODHE’s Apprenticeship Pathways links apprenticeship programs with local two-year community colleges so participants can also earn a technical associate’s degree. Some trades cooperating in this program include sheet metal, carpentry as well as plumbers and pipefitters. Recent apprenticeship expansion grants have also dramatically increased the number of available apprenticeship programs on community college campuses around Ohio. These new programs are also built into a technical associate degree.
While there are many higher education paths for your kids, one thing is certain: Ohio's tax-free 529 Plan is the simple way to be ready to help. Your savings grow tax-free and stay tax-free when used for qualified higher education expenses. And Ohio's 529 Plan can be used at thousands of schools, nationwide.
For more than 34 years, Ohio’s 529 Plan, CollegeAdvantage, has been helping families across the nation save for their children’s higher education. Ohio’s 529 Plan covers qualified costs at any four-year college or university, two-year community college, trade or vocational school, apprenticeship approved by the U.S. Labor Department, or certificate program nationwide that accepts federal financial aid. Learn, plan, and start for as little as $25 today at CollegeAdvantage.com.
This article was originally posted in February 2022 and has been updated to reflect new information for 2024.