Op-Ed: PA 529 Plan + Community College = Winning College Savings Strategy

by Dr. Karen A. Stout
Montgomery County Community College President

It’s never too early for value-minded and future thinking parents to: (1) consider their local community college as a first choice college option, and (2) start a 529 savings plan.

With the rising cost of tuition and general rate of inflation, community colleges – like Montgomery County Community College – are an excellent choice for students to get a quality college education that leads to transfer and/or a career at an affordable cost.

Annual tuition and fees for a full-time student at Montgomery County Community College averages just over $3,000.  The College has more than two dozen formal transfer agreements with area colleges and universities such as Temple, West Chester, Kutztown, Bucknell, Dickinson, and Bryn Mawr for students choosing the bachelor’s degree pathway.  Many of these transfer agreements include financial support toward the baccalaureate degree.

In addition, completion of an associate degree at the community college offers immediate access to careers in high demand areas like biotechnology, public safety and emergency management, nursing, automotive technology, medical laboratory technology, surgical technology and radiography with starting salaries as high as $65,000.

A second smart choice for saving is to invest today in a Pennsylvania 529 Guaranteed Savings Plan (GSP).  More than 10,000 Montgomery County families have already established these accounts. During the 2010-11 academic year, 77 Montgomery County Community College students utilized their 529 GSP savings plans, securing $137,255 in tuition costs.  Sponsored by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and administered by the Pennsylvania Treasury, the PA 529 GSP helps investors keep pace with tuition inflation while providing significant tax advantages and special benefits for Pennsylvania residents.

In addition to the PA 529 GSP, Pennsylvania also offers the PA 529 Investment Plan (IP), from which returns are based on financial market performance. The plan features low fees and more than a dozen conservative and aggressive investments from Vanguard, one of the nation’s largest financial services companies. Best of all, families who save for college through the PA 529 IP receive the same great tax advantages as those saving with the PA 529 GSP.

When taking an important financial step like saving for college, it is important to get all the facts and make an informed decision. Parents can log on to www.PA529.com to read the full GSP disclosure statement and view a series of free webinars on topics like how to maximize the benefits of a PA 529 GSP account and where to find additional financial support to pursue higher education.

According to research from Washington University in St. Louis, a child with a college savings account in his or her name is six times more likely to attend a college or university than a child without one. Therefore, a savings account – such as the PA 529 GSP or  IP– becomes an early and easy tool by which parents can help to remove the cost barrier to their children’s education.

Opening a 529 savings plan, coupled with attending a community college, to pursue an associate degree for immediate career entry or toward a pathway to transfer to earn a baccalaureate degree, is an option worthy of consideration.  It is a pathway that can increase a student’s likelihood of academic success and degree completion by reducing his or her financial burden, not just while in college but also after college.

For more information about PA 529 GSP or PA 529 Investment Plan, visit www.PA529.com.

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