Earlier this month, we posted a blog on countries with free college tuition. But there’s something we didn’t mention in the article: you don’t have to go to a foreign country to attend college for free. As of today, 18 states in the U.S. have created free tuition programs, and more are expected to follow in their footsteps. These programs, also known as College Promise programs, vary in scope depending on the state. Most of them are “last-dollar” programs, which cover the gap between the cost of tuition and fees and any public funding or grants the student receives. Only a few of them are “first-dollar” programs, which give funds to students first, or before other grant aid is taken into account. This means that if a student receives other grant aid, he or she can use it to cover costs beyond tuition and fees, such as room and board, transportation, and books and supplies. Other key features, identified in a 2018 report by The Century Foundation, include targeting high-demand fields, requiring post-graduation residency, and providing resources to support students in completing their degrees. This article gives an overview of the 18 states with free tuition programs—keep reading to see if your state is one of them.
The Arkansas Future Grant (ArFuture) is a last-dollar program that covers tuition and fees for qualifying certificate and associate degree programs at Arkansas’ institutions of higher education. ArFuture is part of the growing trend toward offering free tuition only for STEM or high-demand fields, the grant only applying to students enrolled in STEM or regional high-demand areas of study. Qualifying degree programs include Law Enforcement, Criminal Justice, Nursing, Graphic Design, Web Development, and Radio Broadcasting. ArFuture is one of the few programs that require residency post-graduation. Recipients must live in Arkansas for three consecutive years and be employed within six months after receiving an associate degree or a certification. For more information, read the rules and regulations provided by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.
Through the California College Promise Grant (formerly known as the Board of Governors Fee Waiver), eligible students can attend any California community college without paying the per-unit enrollment fee. To be eligible, students must be a California resident and meet the income requirements (an annual income of $36,900 for a family of four). The California College Promise Grant is one of the few first-dollar programs on this list, meaning that students can use any other financial aid they receive to pay for their non-tuition expenses. Another plus: there are no eligibility requirements based on age, academic merit, or attendance status.
Starting in the fall of 2020, the Debt-Free Community College program will allow first-time college students at any of Connecticut’s 12 community colleges to attend without paying any tuition or fees. The program can be used for books or living expenses if financial aid already covers a student’s tuition and fees. There is no income limit on eligibility.
The Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) scholarship program covers tuition for students enrolled full-time in an associate degree program at Delaware Technical Community College or in the Associate in Arts program at the University of Delaware. Although the program is not primarily merit-based, it does have merit requirements. Recipients must have a cumulative GPA of 2.5 on their high school transcript and maintain a cumulative 2.5 GPA in their degree program to remain eligible for the scholarship.
The Hawai’i Promise Scholarship is one of two programs (Oregon Promise being the other one) that covers costs beyond tuition and fees. This last-dollar scholarship covers direct education costs (tuition, fees, books, supplies, and transportation) for qualifying University of Hawai'i Community College students. To be eligible, students must complete at least seven credits per semester and maintain a GPA of 2.0 or higher.
The 21st Century Scholarship is an “early commitment” program that aims to increase college enrollment rates among low-income students by encouraging them to plan for and attend college. This scholarship covers tuition for up to four years at any participating public college or university in Indiana. If a student wishes to attend a private college, he or she will receive an award amount comparable to that of a four-year public college. Because this is an early commitment program, students must apply in the 7th or 8th grade and complete several activities in high school designed to prepare them for college. The program applies to low-income students with a maximum annual income of $46,435 for a family of four, and students must earn a cumulative GPA of 2.5 in high school. To remain eligible, recipients must complete at least 30 credits per year.
Another Indiana program that covers tuition and fees, although more limited in scope, is the Workforce Ready Grant, which applies to students enrolled in qualifying high-value certificate programs at Ivy Tech Community College, Vincennes University or other approved providers. Qualifying high-value certificate programs are in Advanced Manufacturing, Building & Construction, Health Sciences, IT & Business Services, and Transportation & Logistics.
The Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship (WRKS) is a last-dollar program that covers tuition for students enrolled in approved programs of study that lead to career-related certificates, diplomas, or Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees in a high-demand workforce sector. Approved programs range from a certificate in cyber security to a diploma in business administration to an AAS degree in nursing.
The Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) is a program of state scholarships for Louisiana residents enrolled in Louisiana’s public institutions of higher education, including both two-year and four-year schools. This first-dollar program has four different award components, each of which has different merit requirements. For example, the TOPS Opportunity Award requires a minimum ACT score of 20 whereas the TOPS Honors Award requires a minimum ACT score of 27 and comes with an annual stipend of $800 in addition to the TOPS award amount. In 2016, the Louisiana Legislature decided to decouple award amounts from tuition, so it’s technically no longer a free tuition program, although it covers most tuition and fees. The value of a TOPS award depends on the institution you attend. As a reference, you can find the award amounts for specific colleges and universities in 2018-19 here.
Maryland’s Community College Promise Scholarship is a last-dollar program that covers tuition and fees at the state’s public community colleges. There is an income limit of $100,000 for single-parent households and $150,000 for two-parent households. Applicants must have an unweighted high school GPA of 2.3 or higher. To remain eligible, they must complete 12 credits per semester and maintain a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher.
The A+ Scholarship Program covers tuition and fees for graduates of A+ designated high schools enrolled in a participating public community college or vocational/technical school, or certain private two-year vocational/technical schools. The last-dollar program imposes significant eligibility requirements. Students must have an overall high school GPA of 2.5 or higher, have at least a 95% attendance record overall for grades 9-12, and perform at least 50 hours of unpaid tutoring or mentoring prior to graduation. To remain eligible, they must enroll as a full-time student and complete 12 credits per semester.
The Montana Promise Grant Program is a last-dollar scholarship for students enrolled at least half-time in a community college or in a two-year institution of the Montana university system. To be eligible, students must have a cumulative high school GPA of 2.5 or higher, and they must maintain a cumulative GPA of 2.7 or higher in college.
The Nevada Promise Scholarship is a last-dollar program for Nevada students attending one of the state’s four community colleges: College of Southern Nevada, Great Basin College, Truckee Meadows Community College, or Western Nevada College. It covers up to three years of registration fees and other mandatory fees. To be eligible, students must complete at least 20 hours of community service.
New Jersey recently launched the Community College Opportunity Grant program, which covers tuition and fees at any of the state’s 19 county colleges. This last-dollar program piloted in Spring 2019, during which awards were limited to students with adjusted gross incomes of $45,000 or less.
Through the Excelsior Scholarship, middle-class families and individuals making up to $125,000 per year can attend a SUNY or CUNY two- or four-year degree program without paying for tuition. The last-dollar scholarship requires residency post-graduation: recipients must live and work in New York for the length of time they participated in the scholarship program. To be eligible, applicants must be residents of New York and complete at least 30 credits per year.
Like Indiana’s 21st Century Scholarship, Oklahoma’s Promise is an early commitment program that covers tuition at Oklahoma’s institutions of higher education upon completion of the program’s requirements. Recipients can get all of their tuition covered at a public two-year college or four-year university. They can also choose to attend a private college/university or a public technology center and have the scholarship cover a portion of their tuition. Because Oklahoma’s Promise is an early commitment program, students must enroll in the 8th, 9th, or 10th grade, and the program is limited to those whose parents earn $55,000 or less per year. Program requirements include having a cumulative high school GPA of 2.5 or higher.
Oregon Promise is a middle-dollar program that covers tuition at any Oregon community college. It’s also one of the few programs that doesn’t limit the number of years or terms students can receive the grant; instead, students can receive the grant until they have attempted a total of 90 college credits. Oregon Promise is one of two programs that covers costs beyond tuition and fees. Although it is a last-dollar program in that it covers the costs of tuition and fees after state and federal grants have been taken into account, it has a minimum award amount of $1,000, even for students who have their tuition and fees covered by other forms of financial aid. The maximum award amount is the average tuition charged at an Oregon community college ($3,834 in 2019-20), from which a $50 co-pay per term is automatically deducted.
The Rhode Island Promise Scholarship covers tuition and fees at the Community College of Rhode Island. The last-dollar scholarship is available for all Rhode Island high school graduates regardless of their family’s income level. To remain eligible for the scholarship, recipients must enroll full time, maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher, and complete 30 credits per year.
The Tennessee Promise scholarship and mentoring program covers two years of tuition and fees at any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology, or other eligible institution offering an associate degree program. Eligibility requirements include completing eight hours of community service per term and maintaining a 2.0 GPA.
Washington’s College Bound Scholarship is an early commitment program, for which students who meet the income requirements (annual income of $46,435 for a family of four) can apply in the 7th or 8th grade. The scholarship covers tuition (at comparable public college rates), some fees, and a small book allowance. Program requirements include graduating from high school with a cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher, having no felony convictions, and attending college within one year of graduating from high school.
If you don’t see your state on this list, don’t worry: free tuition isn’t necessarily out of your reach. Even if your state doesn’t have a free tuition program, it may be home to colleges and universities that do. For example, Texas A&M University, the University of Illinois, and Warren Wilson College all offer free tuition and fees for eligible students. When searching for schools, you should also keep an eye out for institutions that meet 100 percent of your demonstrated financial need, meaning they’ll cover any gaps between your cost of attendance and your expected family contribution in the form of grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study. Finally, check to see if your state runs merit programs such as the Georgia HOPE program, Florida Bright Futures, and the West Virginia Promise. You may qualify for these primarily merit-based programs based on your academic standing.
As always, for the latest tips and tricks on making financially smart decisions about college, check out our blog at https://www.edmit.me/blog.