U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Auburn) co-sponsored a bill that might encourage Americans to enter a trade career instead of pursuing careers requiring degrees from four-year universities.

The bipartisan Freedom to Invest in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act (FITWA) would allow Americans to use “529” education savings accounts for “skills training, credentialing and certification programs” as opposed to strictly college and university expenses.

A 529 college savings plan is a state-sponsored investment plan that allows investors to save money for a beneficiary, such as a child, who can withdraw funds tax-free to cover college expenses. 

Currently, beneficiaries cannot use funds from 529 accounts to pay for costs associated with certification exams or continued education requirements. If passed, the FITWA would expand how beneficiaries could use the money in their accounts. 

A bill with the same name was introduced in 2021 but was not considered for a vote in the Senate. 

This comes when attendance at four-year colleges and universities is dwindling. According to Bestcolleges.com, undergraduate college enrollment has decreased every year since 2010. Enrollment decreased rapidly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, dropping below 2008 levels in 2021.

Meanwhile, college tuition continues to rise.

According to the Education Data Initiative, average college tuition and fee rates in the United States have increased 130% since 1990 after adjusting for inflation. Without adjusting for inflation, tuition has risen by around 425%.

Alabama's average increase in in-state tuition was 537.58% (not adjusted for inflation). For out-of-state tuition, it was 705.41%. Those two rates average out to 621.5% — almost 200% higher than the national average. 

Alabama’s 529 college savings plan is managed by CollegeCounts. According to the CollegeCounts website, beneficiaries can use funds for education expenses at institutions that are eligible to participate in Federal Student Aid programs. This already includes community colleges like Southern Union and Jefferson State.

“During my four decades as a coach and educator, I met many students with unique skills they learned and applied outside of a traditional classroom setting,” said Tuberville. “Our economy cannot grow without skilled workers, and it’s important we incentivize Americans to pursue careers that both align with their interests and fill crucial gaps in our workforce. Not all of those valuable careers require college degrees. This legislation allows savings accounts set aside for education to be applied to other forms of training and certification.”

Other co-sponsors of the bill include U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mike Braud (R-Ind.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

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