National Transfer Student Week, held Oct. 16-21, 2023, focuses on the education journey for students who start at a community college, trade or vocational schools and then transfer to a four-year college.

Not only is a community college a good way to transition from high school to higher education institution, but starting at one can help families save more funds in their 529 accounts as the attendance costs are usually less expensive. Therefore, the number of credits a student can transfer from a lower-priced institution to a higher-priced one can significantly lower the costs of a higher education. 

If you look at the national average price, a credit hour at a community college credit hour costs $161, while the average cost of a credit hour at a four-year institution is $456. If your child earns 10 credit hours at a community college on required core classes that will transfer to other four-year program schools, the average cost would be $1,610. If your child took the same 10 credit hours of required core classes at a four-year college or university, the average cost would be $4,560. By taking the same prerequisite courses that will transfer to a four-year program, you could save $2,950 in your 529 account by starting at a community college.

Like saving for college, the key is starting the transfer planning process as early as possible. Once at a community college, your student should tell an academic advisor that they eventually want to transfer. With that information, they can choose courses that will completely transfer to the next college. And once your student knows where they want to transfer, they will need to contact their current school’s transfer office (usually in the registrar’s office) for advice on how to prepare. Then, they will also need to contact their future college’s transfer office for their recommendations and transfer policies. 

Taking general education courses at a lower-priced community college is a smart way to save money in your 529 account and potentially have your student graduate early. If interested, contact your child’s home school’s transfer office to find out where the school has transfer agreements and the courses guaranteed to transfer and apply toward their degree. 

Prior Learning Assessments (PLA) can also gain your student transfer credits. PLAs evaluate a student’s learning outside of a traditional educational environment. Your student can earn college credits in one of two ways. One way is credit by exam, like tests created by the College Level Examination Process or CLEP. The other way is through a portfolio that contains a student’s applicable education learning. Members of the military and veterans can also turn their military experiences into credit. The American Council on Education (ACE) created college credit recommendations surrounding the Joint Services Transcript (JST), which the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard use. 

Transferring credits from a community college to a four-year program can reduce your college costs and stretch your 529 savings funds. If you and your student are deliberate with your actions, and diligent in your research, the transfer process can work well for you and your college savings. 

If you’d like to learn more about saving for your children’s future higher education, visit or search for your home state’s 529 program

About the author: 

Trisha Good is the executive director of Ohio Tuition Trust Authority. For more than 34 years, Ohio Tuition Trust Authority has sponsored and administered Ohio’s 529 College Savings Program, CollegeAdvantage. Ohio’s 529 Plan oversees more than 680,000 accounts and over $15 billion in assets as of March 31, 2023. Visit or call 1-800-AFFORD-IT (233-6734) for more information.