What Are Tuition-Free Colleges?

What Are Tuition Free Colleges?

Tuition-free college can take many forms, including state-sponsored programs at community colleges, four-year schools that charge no tuition for students of certain income levels and schools that require work in exchange for lower costs.

You’ll likely find a tuition-free option for nearly any type of college you’re considering. But it’s important to note that there may be eligibility requirements to get and maintain the benefit. Read on for a sampling of tuition-free colleges and the basics you need to know about their offerings before applying.

How Tuition-free Colleges Work

There are many ways that a student might be able to avoid paying tuition. Some schools offer tuition-free programs for state or city residents, while others give students a break on tuition if they can show their family’s earnings fall under a certain income threshold. Still, others require students to work a certain number of hours at the school or commit to a service agreement upon graduation.

While you might get accepted into a tuition-free college, that doesn’t mean your education won’t cost anything. Most tuition-free programs still require students to pay for room and board, fees, school supplies and other essential costs.

Who Qualifies for Tuition-free Schools

Tuition-free colleges often cater to specific populations, such as the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. It has a low acceptance rate and every student receives a full-tuition scholarship. While living expenses aren’t covered in the scholarship, need-based financial aid is available. Similarly, Webb Institute in Glen Cove, New York provides a full-tuition scholarship and need-based aid to cover living expenses for students interested in studying naval architecture and marine engineering.

Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas also charges no tuition and minimal room and board fees for Native American students. University of the People is an online tuition-free college that offers a handful of degree programs in business administration, computer science, health science and education. Here are more options to consider.

6 Free Colleges for Residents of Certain States

Alice Lloyd College

Residents of 108 counties in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia can attend Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Kentucky tuition-free. Students must work at least 10 hours per week at an on-campus job. Students are still on the hook for room and board as well as fees, which cost $4,870 per semester as an on-campus student and $2,265 per semester as a commuter student.

City College of San Francisco

The Free City program at the City College of San Francisco provides free enrollment to residents of San Francisco who have lived in California for at least one year and one day. You can earn an associate degree or complete two years of school before transferring to a four-year university. Transfer admission is guaranteed if you choose a participating California State or University of California college.

Tennessee Community Colleges

Tennessee is one of several states with a College Promise program, which provides financial assistance to all residents so that any student may attend community or technical college tuition-free. Tennessee’s program is a last-dollar scholarship, which means it covers any costs remaining after eligible students receive Pell Grants and state-sponsored grants like the Tennessee Student Assistance Award.

You can search College Promise programs by state through University of Pennsylvania’s Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy database.

Community College of Rhode Island

The Rhode Island Promise Program is open to recent high school graduates interested in pursuing an associate degree at the Community College of Rhode Island. To go tuition-free, you must be a Rhode Island resident, attend full-time and maintain at least a 2.5 GPA. Those under age 19 who recently got their GED also qualify.

New Mexico Public Colleges and Universities

Implemented in 2020 and signed into law in 2022, New Mexico expanded on other states’ College Promise programs with the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship. It’s a first-dollar program allowing all New Mexico residents to get a certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree tuition-free without first exhausting other types of financial aid. There are no restrictions based on age, income, immigration status or whether you attend school part or full time.

Warren Wilson College

This Asheville, North Carolina liberal arts school with a strong sustainability focus allows North Carolina residents who receive a need-based federal or state grant to attend tuition-free. Students must work eight to 16 hours per week, depending on their year in school, at an on-campus job matched to their interests or studies.

3 Free Schools with Work Agreements

Berea College

At tuition-free Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, students work at least 10 hours a week in an on-campus job. Students must cover other expenses, like room and board, books, supplies and transportation, but the school reports that 98% of non-international first-year students qualify for a federal Pell Grant, which can help cover those costs. Of the class of 2019 students who borrowed money to pay for non-tuition costs at Berea, the median loan debt was $305.

College of the Ozarks

At this Christian college in Point Lookout, Missouri, where 90% of each entering class includes students with financial need, all applicants must show significant academic achievement. Students work 15 hours per week at an on-campus job and for two 40-hour weeks per year in exchange for free tuition. Room and board and college fees must be covered by the student, but federal and state financial aid can help—or you can work an additional six weeks during summer break.

United States Military Service Academies

All admitted students to the five U.S. military service academies pay no tuition and must fulfill a service obligation after graduation. The academies include the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York; the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado; the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut; and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York (the latter two have slightly different application and acceptance procedures).

5 Tuition-free Colleges for Low-income Students

Harvard University

To ensure affordability for all students, Harvard University requires no family contribution towards college costs for those who earn less than $75,000 per year. Families earning between $75,000 and $150,000 annually receive discounted tuition rates. Parents with sizable assets may need to pay, but home equity and retirement accounts are not considered. Students may be expected to work during the school year to contribute to college costs or pitch in savings if they have any.

Stanford University

Similar to Harvard’s program, Stanford University does not charge tuition for students from families that earn less than $150,000 per year with average corresponding assets. Families earning less than $75,000 per year pay no tuition, room or board. Students may be required to make a contribution from savings, assets or eight to 10 hours per week of on-campus work.

University of New Hampshire

Pell Grant-eligible New Hampshire residents can attend the University of New Hampshire tuition-free for up to four years through the Granite Guarantee program. You must be a first-year college student or a recent transfer from a New Hampshire community college. To stay in the program, you’ll have to remain Pell-eligible and a full-time student.

Kansas Promise Act Colleges

Kansas’ College Promise program is open to Kansas residents at a range of community colleges, private nonprofit colleges and technical schools in the state. You must meet income requirements based on family size and commit to pursuing an eligible field of study, such as healthcare or information technology. You can get up to 68 credit hours’ worth, or $20,000, which will cover tuition and fees after other sources of financial aid have been applied. You must live in Kansas for at least two years following the completion of your degree.

New York City and State Colleges

New York’s Excelsior Scholarship is available to state residents from families who earn $125,000 per year or less. Students can attend a two-year or four-year public college, but they must be full-time students and must first put Pell Grant or state grant funds toward tuition. The scholarship covers the remainder of tuition costs up to $5,500 per year and can’t be applied to room, board, transportation or college fees. You must live in New York State upon graduation for at least as many years as you received scholarship funds.

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