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Is Community College Free? List of States Offering Free Tuition

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What’s Covered:


Community college enrollment has climbed substantially in the past several decades. This is partly due to many states offering free tuition to students who want to further their education. 


Community college was once considered a less attractive path, but today, people see its many advantages. It oftentimes offers a cost-effective path to attaining 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.


So how much does a community college education typically cost? Where is it free?


Is Community College Free?


Community college is generally not free, but you can receive scholarships that make it free (which we’ll go over in this post!).


The average annual tuition for in-district community college is $3,340 and $8,210 for out-of-state students. 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 $9,970 and out-of-state tuition costs $25,620. 


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.


Before we go into the types of aid available, 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 students’ education. Meanwhile, first-dollar grants cover tuition without taking into account the additional 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 will this be used to determine federal aid, but many individual schools will also use it to assess qualifications for additional aid.


Pell Grants


The main advantage of Pell Grants is that students do not have to pay them back in most circumstances, in contrast to loans. They are awarded to undergraduates with exceptional financial need who have not attained a bachelor, graduate, or professional degree. The maximum award in the 2021–22 academic year is $6,495, and students may receive all or a portion of that amount.


PLUS Loans


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 the program parents can take out a low-interest government loan on behalf of their students and are the ones responsible for paying them back.


Stafford Loans


Stafford Loans are low-interest direct loans. Subsidized 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 loans, on the other hand, are not 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.


Private Loans


Students may also take out private loans. Bear in mind you or your parents’ credit scores 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.

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States With Community College Scholarships




The Arkansas Future Grant 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 demonstrate financial need.




The Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) program enables full-time students to participate in any course of study at Delaware Technical Community College or a two-year Associate of Arts program at the University of Delaware. Students must meet certain academic criteria to take advantage of the free tuition.




Students who are Hawaii residents may be eligible for the state’s Promise Scholarship, which covers tuition, fees, and additional expenses for qualifying students at the University of Hawaii Community College. Students must be enrolled for at least six credits per semester.




Students who wish to participate in the 21st Century Scholars Program must register in seventh or eight grade. They must maintain good grades and behavior in high school and earn the Core 40 Diploma to ultimately receive up to four years of covered tuition at participating public schools. 




The Work First Kentucky Scholars 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. To be eligible, you must have earned a high school diploma or GED.




The Maryland Community College 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 work full-time in Maryland within a year of completing their education program.




Available for students who are enrolled in a two-year technical program at a Minnesota State college or university, the MnSCU Occupational Grant Pilot Program is intended to prepare students to pursue high-demand careers. Students must have a diploma from a Minnesota high school or earn a GED as a Minnesota resident.




The A+ Scholarship is awarded to eligible Missouri students who plan to attend a community college or vocational/technical school. Students must have a 95% or higher attendance rate throughout high school, as well as volunteer to tutor or mentor for at least 50 hours before graduation.




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.


New York


New York’s Excelsior Scholarship covers tuition of 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 and requires at least one year of New York residency.




Covering up to three years of tuition, the Nevada Promise Scholarship makes it possible for students to attend any of Nevada’s four community colleges. To be eligible, students must complete at least 20 hours of community service.




Available to students in eighth, ninth, or tenth grade who demonstrate financial need, the Oklahoma Promise program covers tuition at an Oklahoma two or four-year institution. To be eligible, students must have completed certain courses in high school.




The Oregon Promise Grant covers tuition of up to $4,000 for students enrolled in two and four-year colleges. Students must be Oregon residents and be recent high school graduates or GED recipients.


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. Through the Joint Admissions Agreement program, students may transfer the award to the University of Rhode Island or Rhode Island College to earn a four-year degree.




Via the Tennessee Promise program, students can receive free tuition at any of the state’s community colleges, technical schools, and participating two-year programs at universities. The program also provides mentorship to students.




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.

Is Community College Right For You?


Community colleges benefit many students. They are certainly less costly than four-year programs. 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 degree. This can often be a more affordable path, but it’s important to discuss your plans with an advisor and ensure your credits will transfer properly from the get-go. 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.


However, community colleges aren’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. Few community colleges offer on-campus housing, another consideration. 


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, either. Keep in mind that some four-year colleges and universities offer generous financial aid and can even be free for qualifying students. Look for schools that meet 100% demonstrated need, as they offer the most financial aid.


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Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.