Is Community College Free? 33 States with Free Tuition in 2023
- Is Community College Free?
- Financial Aid for Community College Students
- States with Community College Scholarships
- Is Community College Right for You?
- Where to Plan Your College Journey
Community college was once considered a less attractive path, but today, people see its many advantages. It often offers a cost-effective way to attain a four-year degree, since students who transfer will only need to pay for two years at a four-year institution after being awarded their associate’s degree. Moreover, it makes it easier for students to stay close to home, and with many adult learners returning to school, this is highly advantageous.
Enrollment in community college saw a steep decline during the pandemic, but it has recently stabilized. Bolstering community college enrollment numbers is the matriculation of low-income and first-generation students particularly affected by the pandemic, as well as a spike in dual enrollment. Dual enrollment classes count for both high school and college credit, can reduce the number of classes a student is required to take in college, and ultimately lower college expenses.
So how much does a community college education typically cost? And where is it free?
Is Community College Free?
Generally, there is a monetary cost to attend community college. Nevertheless, you can receive scholarships that make it more affordable, or even free.
The average annual tuition for in-district community college is $3,400 and the average annual tuition for out-of-state students is $8,210. This excludes additional fees and costs; on average, the total cost of attendance with tuition and fees for full-time, in-district students is $3,730. Note that housing expenses can substantially increase this cost, though many community colleges are commuter schools.
Meanwhile, on average, in-state tuition for public four-year schools costs $9,377 and out-of-state tuition costs $27,279.
Also note that the costs for both two- and four-year public institutions vary significantly by state and region.
Financial Aid for Community College Students
Few community college students pay full tuition for their education. Many receive substantial financial aid packages.
It’s important to note the distinction between first-dollar and last-dollar grants. Most grants are last-dollar, meaning they are awarded to students after their family contribution is calculated. Last-dollar grants provide additional funding to cover the leftover amount needed to pay for a student’s education. Conversely, first-dollar grants cover tuition without taking into account other scholarships and funding for which students are eligible.
To qualify for federal financial aid programs, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and submit it by the appropriate deadlines. Then, you will find out which types of aid you’re eligible for. Not only is the FAFSA used to determine federal aid, but many individual schools will also use it to assess qualifications for additional aid.
The main advantage of Pell Grants is that, in most circumstances, they do not require repayment. Pell Grants are awarded to undergraduates with exceptional financial need who have yet to attain a bachelor, graduate, or professional degree. The maximum award in the 2023-2024 academic year is $7,395—students may receive all or a portion of that amount.
If you’re a parent looking to help your child pay for their education, including community college, then the Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) is a good option. Through this program, parents can take out a low-interest government loan on behalf of their children, and are responsible for paying the loan back.
Stafford Loans are low-interest direct loans that are provided in two forms—subsidized and unsubsidized.
- Subsidized Stafford Loans are awarded to students who demonstrate financial need. The government covers your interest during your education, and you receive a six-month grace period after school.
- Unsubsidized Stafford Loans aren’t awarded based on need and students must pay interest until the loan is paid off. You may defer interest payments while you’re in college, but the interest will accrue.
Students may also take out private loans. Bear in mind your (or your parents’) credit score(s) will determine whether you qualify for these loans, and you’ll often need to pay higher interest rates. You may also face higher loan minimums.
No matter how you secure funding for college, be sure you understand all the terms and rules associated with the loan or grant. Otherwise, you could face financial difficulties down the road.
States with Community College Scholarships
The Arkansas Future Grant (ArFuture) is available to Arkansas residents who have lived in the state for at least three years and graduated from an in-state public high school. Students must pursue a two-year high-demand or STEM program.
Students who plan on attending a two- or four-year degree program can receive a tuition waiver as part of the California College Promise Grant Program. Students must be California residents and must have demonstrated financial need.
The Pledge to Advance Connecticut (PACT) provides funding to qualifying students to cover the gap between federal/state funding and the cost of tuition and mandatory fees at community college. The program is open to Connecticut high school graduates enrolling in degree or credit-bearing certificate programs either full or part time.
The Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) scholarships provide free tuition for a variety of degrees and certificate programs, including associate’s degrees, credit certificates, and workforce training. SEED scholarships can even be applied to a full associate’s degree and one additional year toward a bachelor’s degree. Students must meet certain academic criteria to take advantage of the free tuition.
Students enrolling in one of 18 in-demand fields—ranging from computer programming to movie production set design to health science—may qualify for free tuition through the HOPE Career Grant. The program is open to Georgia residents who meet certain academic standards.
Students who are residents of Hawaii may be eligible for the state’s Promise Scholarship—a last-dollar scholarship that covers tuition, fees, and additional expenses for qualifying students at one of the University of Hawai’i’s seven community colleges. Students must qualify for Hawaii resident tuition and enroll for at least six credits per semester.
Students who wish to participate in the 21st Century Scholars Program must register in seventh or eighth grade. Students can receive up to four years of covered tuition at participating public schools, provided that they maintain good grades and behavior in high school and earn the Core 40 Diploma.
The Future Ready Iowa Last-Dollar Scholarship applies to particular post-secondary certificates, diplomas, and associate degrees—qualifying programs may vary from year to year based on job demand. This program is for those who have earned an Iowa high school diploma (or high school equivalency diploma) and are enrolled at least part time in an eligible program.
The Kansas Promise Act Scholarship is another last-dollar scholarship aimed at attracting students to in-demand fields, ranging from agriculture to information technology and security. The scholarship is available to Kansas residents who attend Kansas community and technical colleges and meet certain financial requirements.
The Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship (WRKS) program offers free tuition to Kentucky residents who pursue degrees, certificates, or diplomas in high-demand fields, such as healthcare, transportation, business services, or IT. Eligible students must be Kentucky residents who have earned a high school diploma or GED.
Louisiana residents over the age of 21 may qualify for the M.J. Foster Promise Program, a last-dollar scholarship for students enrolled in qualifying programs. The program is open to those who’ve not yet earned a degree at the associate’s level and is focused on students pursuing careers in high-demand and growing fields like information technology, healthcare, and manufacturing.
Maine students who graduated from high school between 2020 and 2023 are eligible to receive free tuition at any of the state’s community colleges. To qualify, all students need to do is enroll in a degree or certificate program, accept any federal or state aid offered, and live in Maine while enrolled.
The Maryland Community College Promise Scholarship provides up to $5,000 to cover tuition at a two-year community college, a series of courses, or a registered apprenticeship program. Recipients are required to meet certain financial thresholds and academic standards to receive the award.
Michigan Reconnect allows students who are at least 25 years old to attend an in-district community college for free or an out-of-district community college at the in-district rate. The program is open to Michigan residents with high school diplomas (or the equivalent) who’ve not earned a college degree.
Mississippi students from Lowndes, Clay, Oktibbeha, Noxubee, Kemper, Lauderdale, or Calhoun may qualify for free tuition at East Mississippi Community College through the EMCC Tuition Assistance Program. This program provides last-dollar scholarships to full-time students for four consecutive semesters, provided that students maintain certain academic standards.
The A+ Scholarship Program provides last-dollar scholarships to students pursuing associate’s degrees. To qualify for the program, students must graduate from an A+ designated high school, meet certain academic and attendance standards, and enroll full time in an associate’s program.
Through the Montana Promise Grant Program, students who want to earn an associate’s degree at a two-year state, tribal, or community college may qualify for a need-based grant to be applied to tuition or living expenses. Eligible students must have been Montana residents for at least 12 months.
Covering up to three years of tuition, the Nevada Promise Scholarship makes it possible for students to attend any of the four Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) community colleges. To be eligible, students must complete at least 20 hours of community service.
19. New Jersey
The New Jersey Community College Opportunity Grant (CCOG) provides tuition-free community college to students with a total household adjusted gross income (AGI) of less than $65,000. Students with AGIs between $65,001 and $80,000 qualify for reduced tuition. The program is open to New Jersey residents with no prior college degree and is contingent on them maintaining satisfactory academic progress.
20. New Mexico
Both full- and part-time students in New Mexico pursuing credit-bearing career training certificates, associate’s degrees, and bachelor’s degrees may qualify for free tuition through the state’s New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship.
21. New York
New York’s Excelsior Scholarship covers tuition up to $5,500 for students to attend two- or four-year programs through the State University of New York (SUNY) or City University of New York (CUNY) systems. The scholarship is need-based—students from families making up to $125,000 can qualify—and requires at least one year of New York residency.
22. North Carolina
North Carolina allows high school students to get a tuition-free jump start on their college education through its Career & College Promise (CCP) program. The program allows eligible high schoolers to enroll for free in college classes at the state’s community colleges to earn college credit and, in many cases, dual (both high school and college) credit.
Available to students in 8th, 9th, 10th, or 11th grade who demonstrate financial need, Oklahoma’s Promise covers tuition at an Oklahoma two- or four-year institution. Eligible students must be Oklahoma residents, must have completed certain courses in high school, and must meet certain income thresholds.
The Oregon Promise Grant covers tuition up to $4,248 for students enrolled in two- or four-year colleges. Students must be Oregon residents, be recent high school graduates or GED recipients, and meet academic requirements.
25. Rhode Island
The Rhode Island Promise program enables in-state students to enroll at The Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) tuition free, regardless of income. The Rhode Island Promise lasts for two academic years, provided that the recipient is enrolled full time and maintains a minimum 2.5 GPA.
26. South Carolina
A free college education is available to those who either live or work full time in South Carolina at Spartanburg Community College through its Live to Chase Initiative. The program covers any remaining tuition balance after federal aid and scholarships and is open to students who take at least six credits, are continuously enrolled, and maintain a minimum 2.2 GPA.
27. South Dakota
Students pursuing particular technical degrees in South Dakota may qualify for free tuition through the state’s Build Dakota scholarship program. This program aims to attract students to high-demand careers in fields like agriculture, healthcare, and information technology.
Via the Tennessee Promise program, students can receive free tuition at any of the state’s community colleges, technical schools, and two-year programs at participating universities. The program also provides mentorship. Participants in the program are required to complete eight hours of community service each term and maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA.
The 802 Opportunity Grant provides qualifying Vermonters with the chance to earn a college education tuition free. The grant is open to Vermonters of any age with a household income of $75,000 or less who haven’t previously earned a bachelor’s degree.
Students who are interested in pursuing careers in high-demand positions in fields like IT, healthcare, and early childhood education may qualify for Virginia’s G3 program—get a skill, get a job, get ahead. To qualify, students must be Virginia residents, have earned a high school diploma or GED, meet certain financial requirements, and enroll for at least six credits.
The College Bound Scholarship covers average tuition costs at Washington state schools, along with some additional expenses. Students must sign up while they are in the seventh or eighth grade to qualify and reapply, as well as complete the FAFSA near the end of high school.
32. West Virginia
The West Virginia Invests program covers the cost of basic tuition and fees for select certificate and associate’s degree programs in high-demand fields. Recipients are required to take at least six credits each semester, maintain a 2.0 GPA, and complete two hours of community service in every semester that they receive funds.
Wyoming’s Hathaway Scholarships help students pay for tuition at the University of Wyoming and at any of the state’s community colleges. Hathaway Scholarships are available in four tiers of merit-based awards that depend on student performance—the better a student does academically, the more funding they receive—and one need-based award.
Is Community College Right for You?
Community colleges benefit many students. They’re certainly less costly than four-year programs, and they’re also situated in the communities they serve, making it easy for students to work and fulfill other commitments while learning.
Community college is also a good fit for students who aren’t yet prepared for the rigors and commitments of four-year institutions. Attending a two-year program can help you adjust to college life and academic expectations.
Some students also complete two years of their education at a community college and then transfer to four-year institutions to earn their bachelor’s degree. This can offer an even more affordable path, but it’s important to discuss your plans with an advisor from the start and ensure your credits will transfer properly. In preparation, an advisor can help you map out your courses. Some community colleges even have agreements with public in-state schools that facilitate smoother transitions.
Note, however, that community college isn’t for everyone. Students in search of a more traditional, on-campus college experience will probably prefer four-year colleges, since activities, clubs, and community-building events are rarer on two-year campuses. Another consideration is that few community colleges offer on-campus housing.
Additionally, four-year colleges and universities tend to offer more program options and resources, including career centers and internship guidance. Many jobs require four-year degrees, too, although it’s quite possible to land a good job with an associate’s degree—it just depends on your goals.
Community college is not the only option for saving money; some four-year colleges and universities offer generous financial aid which can even make college free for qualifying students. Look for schools that meet 100% of demonstrated financial need, as they offer the most financial aid.
Where to Plan Your College Journey
If you’re busy building your college list, CollegeVine can help. Our free school search tool enables you to explore over 1,600 schools—including community colleges—based on your preferences, using filters like location, costs, majors, and athletics.
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