States that Offer Tuition-Free College Programs
For students grappling with the rising costs of a college education, it can often feel as though little recourse is available. After all, even with financial aid and scholarship packages, the average family still pays over $100,000 out-of-pocket for a four-year degree from a private college. The good news is, there are programs available in many states that can make a college education more affordable, some even offering tuition-free options to qualified applicants. To learn if these are an option near you, don’t miss this post.
What Are Tuition-Free College Programs?
Tuition-free college programs, backed by both private and public sources depending on the program, fund in-state tuition for students that meet certain eligibility requirements. Usually these requirements include both significant financial need and strong academic performance, but the exact requirements vary. Application methods also vary–some you apply to directly, others you apply to automatically when you submit a financial aid application to a qualifying school. Most of these programs apply only to community colleges, but some are available at four-year degree programs as well. You will need to check the programs available in your state to find specific application requirements.
Most tuition-free programs follow a last dollar model, meaning that they themselves do not fund the student’s education entirely, but instead cover the remaining costs after all need-based federal, state and institutional grants are applied. Consequently, most of these programs are essentially a scholarship that covers the gap between the total aid awarded and the total tuition.
It’s important to note that these programs typically cover only tuition. That means that expenses like books, housing, and transportation are still the student’s responsibility. Students should keep in mind that these costs can add up–according to the CollegeBoard, students at two-year colleges paid an average of $1,440 for books and supplies and an additional $1,800 in transportation costs during the 2018-2019 school year.
Furthermore, many of these programs come with stringent requirements, including a minimum number of credits each year, a minimum GPA, or even residency requirements after graduation. For example, the Arkansas Future Grant Program requires students to find a job within half a year and stay in-state three years after graduation otherwise their scholarship will convert into a loan. Hence, you’ll want to think carefully about the program-specific commitments and requirements before applying.
States With Tuition-Free College Programs
Arkansas – Arkansas Future Grant
The Arkansas Future Grant is a last dollar grant that covers tuition and fees for qualifying certificate and Associate degree programs at public institutions for eligible students. The grant is available on a first come, first serve basis and to be eligible, students must be enrolled in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields or regional high demand areas of study.
Additional Requirements: Students must either have completed their high school education or equivalent in Arkansas or have resided in the state for three consecutive years.
California – California Promise
The California Promise Program provides tuition waivers for residents with financial need who attend in-state community colleges or public state universities. Under the program, students can only receive a tuition waiver for one academic year.
Additional Requirements: Students must be legal residents of California who commit to enter a four-year or two-year degree program. Students must meet with their advisors, develop an enrollment plan, and complete 30 semester units (or the quarter equivalent) within each academic year, including summer. Participating campuses may stipulate other requirements as well.
Delaware – SEED (Student Excellence Equals Degree)
This is a last dollar program that begins the fall semester immediately following a student’s high school graduation. It covers tuition only after other financial aid received is deducted from the total cost of tuition. Fees and books are not covered. Students must maintain a 2.5 SEED cumulative grade point average (GPA) at the end of each academic year.
Additional Requirements: Recipients must be high school graduates who are Delaware residents with a combined score of 1350 on the new SAT or a composite ACT score of at least 19. Full requirements are available here.
Hawaii – The Hawai’i Promise Scholarship
A last dollar program, the Hawaii Promise Scholarship provides free in-state tuition for qualified University of Hawai’i Community College students with financial need. The scholarship covers direct educational costs including tuition, fees, books, supplies and transportation for eligible students.
Additional Requirements: Students must qualify for resident tuition and be enrolled in a degree or certificate program at a community college for at least six credits per semester. Students would also be required to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine their unmet need and must maintain standards of academic progress as defined by the Federal Title IV programs.
Indiana – 21st Century Scholars Program
The 21st Century Scholarship provides students up to four years of undergraduate tuition at participating public schools in Indiana (this amount may be reduced based on availability of funds and a family’s ability to pay). For private colleges, the state will award an amount comparable to that of a four-year public college. When it comes to for-profit schools, the state will award a tuition scholarship equal to that of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana.
Additional Requirements: All Scholars must earn a cumulative (overall) high school grade point average (GPA) of 2.5 on a 4.0 scale, complete the Scholar Success Program, and earn Indiana’s Core 40 Diploma.
Kentucky – Work First Kentucky Scholarship
Students in this program must enroll at eligible post-secondary institutions in approved programs of study leading to an industry recognized certificate, diploma, or Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in a high‐demand workforce sector. Qualifying areas for the 2019-2020 year include health care, advanced manufacturing, transportation/logistics, business services/IT, and construction
Additional Requirements: Students must be Kentucky residents who are U.S. citizens and have earned a high school or GED diploma. Students must complete the FAFSA and submit a WFKS application. While in school, students must maintain a 2.0 GPA or higher.
Maryland – Maryland Community College Scholarship
Qualifying students for this program receive up to $5,000 towards tuition at a two-year community college, registered apprenticeship program, or a sequence of credit or non-credit courses that leads to licensure or certification. Recipients of the Maryland Community College Promise Scholarship Program must sign an agreement to work full-time in the State within one year after earning the credit-bearing vocational certificate, credit-bearing certificate, or associate degree. Any recipient who received the award for more than one year must work full-time in Maryland for each year they received the award. If the student fails to fulfill the service obligation and secure employment within the State, the award will convert into a loan payable to the State.
Additional Requirements: Students must be Maryland residents who are from two-parent households that earn less than $150,000 a year; the income threshold for single-parent households is $100,000. Students must have graduated from high school or earned their GED within the last two years. Recipients must complete the FAFSA, meet in-state tuition requirements and earn at least a 2.3 high school GPA among other criteria.
Minnesota – MnSCU Two-Year Occupational Grant Pilot Program
This is a last dollar program that provides financial assistance to students enrolled in qualifying career and technical programs at MnSCU two-year colleges so that students can complete the program and find employment in a high-demand occupation. The award covers any remaining tuition and general fee charges after the student’s Federal Pell Grant and MN State Grant have been applied to the their account. Program-specific fees and equipment are not covered. The grant is available for up to 72 semester credits, including any required developmental courses taken after admission to the occupational program.
Additional Requirements: Students must hold a diploma from a Minnesota high school or have passed the GED exam as a Minnesotan. This program only covers qualifying occupations, so students must study in an approved field, such as nursing or accounting.
Missouri – A+ Scholarship
This scholarship program is open to eligible graduates of A+ designated high schools who attend a participating public community college or vocational/technical school, or certain private two-year vocational/technical schools.
Additional Requirements: Requirements for this award are stringent and include standards for residency, GPA, and attendance. A complete list can be found on the website.
Montana – Montana Promise Grant Program
Montana Promise is a last dollar program for students pursuing an associate degree or professional credential at one of Montana’s two-year, tribal and community colleges. These are need-based grants which can be applied toward tuition or living expenses.
Additional Requirements: Students must be Montana residents for at least 12 months and be enrolled at least half-time in a community or tribal college or in a 2-year institution of the Montana university system. Students must be taking courses that will allow them to transfer to another postsecondary institution as a second-year student, an associate degree offered by the institution or a professional credential offered by the institution.
New York – Excelsior Scholarship
Residents of New York are eligible for this last dollar program which covers tuition up to $5,500 at any SUNY or CUNY college. A tuition credit will cover any remaining tuition expenses not covered by the Excelsior Scholarship. Students can receive award payments for no more than two years of full-time undergraduate study in a program leading to an associate’s degree or four years of full-time undergraduate study.
Additional Requirements: The program is based on income. A student whose family earned $100,000 or less in the previous year qualifies. Each institution sets their own GPA requirements for eligibility. In addition, students must live and work in New York for a number of years after graduation or otherwise repay the scholarship money.
Nevada – Nevada Promise Scholarship
This is a last-dollar scholarship program that will cover the gap between community college tuition and all other aid for Nevada residents. Community colleges decide individually whether they will participate in the program. There’s no minimum GPA or SAT score to receive the scholarship. The program covers remedial coursework and creates a mentoring program to advise scholarship participants.
Additional Requirements: Students graduating from a Nevada high school are eligible. To qualify, students need to apply for federal financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and submit a Nevada Promise Scholarship application. Students must also complete 20 hours of community service.
Oklahoma – Oklahoma’s Promise
To be eligible for Oklahoma’s Promise, students must enroll early in their high school career and take all required high school courses. Enrolled students are then able to earn a scholarship towards tuition at an Oklahoma public two-year college or four-year university, or a portion of tuition at an accredited Oklahoma private college, university, or approved program at Oklahoma public technology centers.
Additional Requirements: Students must enroll in this program as an 8th, 9th, or 10th grader. Students must be Oklahoma residents and complete a prescribed list of high school coursework.
Oregon – Oregon Promise
This state grant program covers tuition costs at public two-year colleges for a select number of eligible students. Oregon Promise covers up to the average cost of 12 credits per term. Students are financially responsible for paying for any additional credits above 12. Awards cover tuition but do not cover the full cost of college attendance.
Additional Requirements: Students must be recent Oregon high school graduates or GED recipients. High school grads must have earned at least a cumulative 2.5 GPA.
Rhode Island – Rhode Island Promise
The Rhode Island Promise program allows all Rhode Islanders coming right out of high school to pursue associate degrees at CCRI tuition-free, regardless of family income. Students who wish to pursue education higher than an associate’s degree are then able to transfer to the University of Rhode Island or Rhode Island College through the Joint Admissions Agreement program.
Additional Requirements: Students must be Rhode Island residents and new high school graduates (public, private or homeschooled) or GED recipients who are younger than 19 years old. To maintain the scholarship, students must enroll full time (15 credits strongly encouraged) at the Community College of Rhode Island, maintain at least a 2.5 GPA, earn 30 credits each year, and enroll each semester for two years.
Tennessee – Tennessee Promise
The Tennessee Promise program is both a scholarship and mentoring program. It provides students a last-dollar scholarship covering the cost of tuition and fees not covered by other federal, state, and institutional grants. Students may use the scholarship at any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology, or other eligible institution offering an associate degree program.
Additional Requirements: This program is open to Tennessean high school students who obtain their high school diploma before age 19. Students must enroll full time and maintain at least a 2.0 GPA. They must also complete eight hours of community service each term.
Washington – College Bound Scholarship Washington
The College Bound Scholarship is a last dollar program to cover the average tuition (at public rates to eligible Washington state institutions). It also covers some fees and a small book allowance for income-eligible students. Students must plan well in advance for this program, which requires enrollment during 8th grade. To be eligible, a student must work hard in school, remain a good citizen and successfully apply to a higher education institution when he or she graduates.
Additional Requirements: To be eligible, students must demonstrate financial need on the FAFSA. Students must also sign and complete an application to join the program during the 8th grade.
State-wide tuition free college programs can be a tremendous resource for many families, but they aren’t the only options out there. Some states offer smaller scale programs for students going to specific community colleges, or graduating from specific high schools, or even living in certain cities. Check our post No-Loan Colleges: What They Are and a Complete List for more information about college-specific financial opportunities aid to cover full tuition costs. You can find more information about these and other programs from admissions officers or your guidance counselor. For even more help locating resources to help pay for college or understanding college costs, subscribe to our email list online.
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