There are so many great things about college: making new friends, having new experiences, learning about topics you really care about, and graduating with a boat-load of debt. Wait, what was that last one?
It’s no secret that college is expensive — and fees just keep on rising. And while many students choose to turn to far more affordable community colleges, these still often come with a cost.
Unless, of course, you live in one of the 19 states in the US that offer free community college programs. Are you lucky enough to live in one of these places where you can get an education and save some valuable cash? Read on to find out!
What is Tuition-Free College?
Tuition-free programs mean that students who meet eligibility requirements can go to specified community colleges for free, without paying hefty tuition fees.
However, it’s important to note that while the programs cover tuition, that doesn’t make college free. There are also charges like room, board, transportation, and textbooks — which still need to be paid for out of pocket.
These amounts add up! The average tuition fee for a four-year course in a community college in 2019-20 was $10,440. With boarding and room charges included, it jumped to $21,950. States that allow students to offset those tuition fees are giving them a huge leg-up toward avoiding hefty college debt.
First-Dollar vs. Last-Dollar Grants
The majority of the programs below are “last-dollar” programs — while only a few select states offer “first-dollar” programs. But what’s the difference?
Last-dollar grants are awarded to students whose aid falls short of the overall college fees. However, this only applies after taking into account their financial contribution, combined with the federal financial aid they are eligible to receive.
These programs essentially cover the gap between the total aid provided to a student and the cost of college education (tuition plus fees).
In comparison, a first-dollar scholarship provides tuition fee waivers to students, regardless of additional funding or grants the student is eligible for.
States Which Offer Tuition-Free Community College
Arkansas – Arkansas Future Grant
The Arkansas Future Grant is a last-dollar grant that is available to students pursuing a two-year program in science, technology, engineering, and math fields or a regional high demand area of study.
Students who have graduated from an Arkansas public school or received a recognized high school equivalency diploma, and have lived in the state for three consecutive years are eligible to apply for the program.
Apart from that, a recipient must complete eight hours of community service per semester and must work full-time for three consecutive years in the state following graduation.
California – California Promise
Unlike most of the programs in this list, California Promise is a first-dollar program, which means it provides tuition waivers to students, regardless of additional funding or grants the students are eligible for.
As one of the best examples of free community college on this list, state resident students planning to attend or attending a two-year or four-year degree can apply.
Only full-time students are eligible, which means students must complete 30-semester units within each academic year.
Connecticut – New Haven Promise
The Promise scholarship grants free tuition for New Haven residents, who graduated from a New Haven public school, attending public two or four-year colleges and universities in Connecticut.
If you are new to the city while in your freshman year, you can try to qualify for a percentage of the scholarship but the amount will likely be based on your length of residency in New Haven.
The scholarship is exclusive to New Haven residents who attended local public schools or an approved New Haven charter school. Students must have a clean disciplinary record and have completed around 40 hours of community service during high school.
Additionally, qualified applicants need a final high school GPA of 3.0 and a good attendance record, not missing more than 72 days in school.
Delaware – SEED (Student Excellence Equals Degree)
The SEED program covers tuition for full-time students for two-year programs at the University of Delaware for its Associate of Arts degree program or any program at Delaware Technical Community College.
SEED is available for Delaware students who have maintained a 2.5 cumulative grade point average (GPA) on a 4.0 scale, or a combined score of 1350 on the new Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or a composite American College Testing (ACT) score of at least 19.
Students applying to the program cannot have been convicted of a felony and can enroll no later than the fall semester immediately after high school graduation.
Hawaii – Hawaii Promise Scholarship
The Hawaii Promise Scholarship covers the tuition fees of students who are enrolled in at least six credits at a University of Hawaii Community College. This is a last-dollar program, meaning it covers financial needs not met by other forms of financial aids. It covers tuition, fees, books, supplies, and transportation for eligible students. Around 1,500 students received the scholarship in 2017-18, receiving an average of $1,200 each.
Residents of Hawaii who have submitted their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application can apply.
Indiana – 21st Century Scholars Program
This is a unique program that offers up to four years of tuition to the state’s residents with a requirement that they have to commit to the program in 7th or 8th grade.
It also requires the applicants to have good academic performance throughout their high school, and good behavior that is free of drug use and other illegal acts.
Students must enroll in 7th or 8th grade, earn an overall high school GPA of 2.5 on a 4.0 scale, complete the Scholar Success Program, and earn Indiana’s Core 40 Diploma, and complete at least 30 credit hours each year in college.
An income threshold level also applies to be eligible for the program.
Kentucky – Work First Kentucky Scholars Program
The Work First Kentucky Scholars Program provides free community college tuition to students in Kentucky who pursue degrees in an in-demand workforce sector, including healthcare, advanced manufacturing, transportation/logistics, business services/IT, and construction.
To apply for this program, the student must be a US citizen and a resident of Kentucky.
They should be a high school graduate or be enrolled in or have completed a General Educational Development (GED) Program but have not attained an associate degree. A student must apply or be accepted at an eligible institution approved by the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority.
Louisiana – TOPS (Taylor Opportunity Program for Students)
TOPS is an accessible scholarship program directed at state residents who attend one of Louisiana’s public university systems or schools from the states’ community and technical college systems. These scholarships take care of tuition costs, but not other expenses.
Students must be enrolled as a full-time freshman and have a minimum GPA of 2.50 in TOPS core curriculum courses. A minimum ACT score of the prior year’s state average must also be attained. Additionally, 24 earned hours must be completed within the academic year to continue eligibility.
Maryland – Maryland Community College Scholarship
The program offers students up to $5,000 to cover their two-year community college tuition to enroll in a vocational course. There is no age limit for recipients.
A high school student or a GED recipient must have a cumulative GPA of at least 2.3 and must not have an income of more than $100,000 annually if the person is unmarried, or $150,000 if the person is married or resides in a two-parent household.
Recipients are required to work full-time in the state within one year after earning the degree or certificate.
Massachusetts — Boston’s Tuition-Free Community College Plan
In this program, the City of Boston will cover up to three years of college tuition for qualified low-income students pursuing associate degrees in six participating schools.
The TFCC plan will cover the remaining tuition or fees after applying for the Pell Grant and students can expect $250 each semester for a maximum of three years to be used for other major expenses, such as books or transportation.
Boston residents graduating with at least a 2.0 GPA and who are set to receive their high school diploma (or an equivalent) within 18 months of starting the TFCC plan are eligible for this program.
Students should also be eligible for the Pell Grant and must come from low to moderate-income households to continue their application.
Missouri – A+ Scholarship
This program provides grants to eligible students of the states who want to attend a community college or vocational/technical school, or certain private two-year vocational/technical schools.
Applicants must have attended an A+ high school for at least two years prior to graduation, with a GPA of 2.5 or higher on a 4.0 scale.
Applicants must have at least a 95 percent attendance record overall for grades 9 to 12. They also have to perform at least 50 hours of unpaid tutoring or mentoring, of which up to a quarter may include job shadowing (on job learning) prior to graduation.
Montana – Montana Promise Grant Program
The Montana Promise Grant Program is for students pursuing an associate degree or professional credential at one of Montana’s two-year, tribal, and community colleges.
Students must be a Montana resident for at least 12 months and must have a GPA of at least 2.5 in high school.Students should not have completed more than 60 credit hours or the equivalent at a postsecondary institution or earned an associate degree.
New York – Excelsior Scholarship
The Excelsior Scholarship covers tuition up to $5,500 for students attending a two-year or four-year undergraduate-degree-granting school in the State University of New York (SUNY) system or the City University of New York system (CUNY).
Applicants must have either graduated from a high school, earned a high school equivalency diploma, or passed a federally approved Ability-to-Benefit test.
It is available to students with an adjusted gross income of $125,000 or less, and the applicant must be a US citizen and a resident of New York for the last one year prior to the beginning of the term.
The student has to enroll in at least 12 credits per term, complete at least 30 credits each year, and has to reside in the state for the length of the time the award was received.
Nevada – Nevada Promise Scholarship
This program is one of the most flexible options on the list. It covers up to three years of college tuition for students enrolled in any of the four community colleges in the state.
There’s no minimum GPA or SAT score to receive the scholarship. However, students must complete 20 hours of community service.
Oklahoma – Oklahoma’s Promise
The Oklahoma Promise program was started in 1992 to help more Oklahoma families send their children to college. It allows students who are enrolled in 8th, 9th, or 10th grade in an Oklahoma high school to earn free tuition at a state public two-year college or four-year university when they attend.
An applicant’s family income must be less than $55,000 per annum, and students must have completed a prescribed list of high school courses.
Apart from that, during the course, if a student gets suspended for more than one semester for conduct reasons, they will lose the scholarship permanently.
Oregon – Oregon Promise
This program covers tuition costs of up to $4,000 per year for high school graduates enrolled in both two and four-year community colleges in the state.
Have at least a 2.5 cumulative high school GPA or a grade of at least 145 on all GED tests.
Applicants must have been a resident of Oregon for the last 12 months and should not have more than 90 college credits completed or attempted.
Rhode Island – Rhode Island Promise
The program allows the high school graduates of the state to pursue tuition-free associate degrees at The Community College of Rhode Island, regardless of their income status.
Applicants must have had a minimum 2.5 GPA in high school, and should be younger than 19 years.
Those who wish to pursue higher education than an associate degree can transfer the grant to the University of Rhode Island or Rhode Island College through the Joint Admissions Agreement program.
Tennessee – Tennessee Promise
The Tennessee Promise provides eligible high school students tuition-free education at the state’s 13 community colleges and 27 technical schools or eligible public and private universities with two-year programs.
Another highlight of the program is that it provides guidance to students in the form of a mentor to navigate the college admission process.
Tennessee residents applying for the program must maintain a GPA of 2.0 or higher and must complete eight hours of community service per term.
Virginia – Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back (G3)
This Virginian initiative makes community colleges tuition-free for low and middle-income students pursuing degrees in high-demand fields, such as health care, information technology, and computer science.
Students who qualify for a Pell Grant can receive student-support incentive grants amounting to $900 per semester and $450 per summer term.
Initial eligibility for the program will be determined through the submission of federal and state student financial aid applications, including FAFSA. Each participating institution will have more specific information on how to apply for the program.
Washington – College Bound Scholarship Washington and the Seattle Promise
Washington has two main free community college initiatives.
The College Bound Scholarship is a last-dollar scholarship that covers tuition, some fees, and a small book allowance. Students in 7th or 8th grade from low-income families can apply.
Meanwhile, the Seattle Promise is a last-dollar program that allows graduates of local public schools to apply for a tuition scholarship that covers any remaining tuition balance for up to two years at any public Seattle college.If low-income students still need financial support for expenses beyond tuition, such as books, meals, or room and board, they can apply for the Seattle Promise Equity Scholarship.
To be eligible for the College Bound Scholarship Washington, students must meet the FAFSA income eligibility criteria.
Seattle Promise scholars are required to have good academic standing, a stellar attendance record, and must meet with their advisor each quarter to remain qualified.
Frequently Asked Questions About Tuition-Free College
Is community college free in the US?
Community colleges are typically not free in the US. However, 19 states currently offer programs that offset or remove tuition costs for eligible students at certain colleges. These programs generally don’t cover associated costs like books, room, or transportation.
Which state has the cheapest community college?
Kansas’ Coffeyville Community College reportedly has the lowest average tuition in the US at $1,120 per year.
Meanwhile, California holds the honor of being the state with the country’s most affordable public schools. The Golden State has an average fee of $3,088 for in-state public colleges and $11,992 for out-of-state public schools in 2020.
Which states have free community college?
There are 20 US states that provide tuition-free community programs for eligible students. These are Arkansas, Boston, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, New York, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Seattle, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington.
Is it better to go to community college first, then transfer?
Whether you choose to do community college before going to a four-year college depends upon your overall plan for higher education. Community colleges cost a lot less than a traditional four-year college, and also offer the flexibility to work while studying.
The average annual cost of tuition and fees for a public two-year college is $3,440 for in-district students. However, the average annual cost for a public four-year college is $9,410 for in-state students and $23,890 for out-of-state students, according to the College Board.
Another big reason for choosing community colleges over four-year university programs is their less-strict admission criteria, with many having open admission policies. This means that any person who graduates from high school and applies will generally be accepted.
On the other hand, if you want to have a more comprehensive and well-rounded learning experience with on-campus housing and dining facilities, athletic programs, and student clubs/organizations, then four-year university education may suit you better.
Do community colleges offer bachelor degrees?
Yes. In the US, 23 states allow community colleges to offer a bachelor’s degree. On the list are Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The states offering free community college currently include Arkansas, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.Is community college free in the United States? ›
Although community colleges aren't free nationally, several states have instituted their own programs that make community colleges free for students. The eligibility requirements vary by state, but they typically offer free tuition to students that lived and attended high school in the state.Is college free in the States? ›
Some community colleges in the United States offer free tuition, but the vast majority are not free. As of 2022, 20 states provide tuition-free community college, meaning that if you are a resident of that state and meet certain requirements, you can attend classes free of charge.Why free community college is a good idea? ›
Research shows that free tuition programs encourage more students to attend college and increase graduation rates, which creates a better-educated workforce and higher-earning consumers who can help boost the economy.Can you go to college for free? ›
A college education isn't free by any means and there is no such thing as a truly free college education. Even if you qualify for your tuition and living expenses to be paid for by another party, such as your employer, you will still be required to do something in exchange.Why is college not free? ›
Since the provision of free college could affect the quality of education, free access for all to postsecondary education might not be able to provide the competencies and skills needed to produce a strong workforce. The government has many competing priorities and free college requires high education subsidies.Should college be free pros and cons? ›
|Pro's of Tuition Free College||Con's of Tuition Free College|
|Improved college graduation rates||College may not be taken seriously|
|More freedom to choose a major you enjoy||College education could decrease in quality|
|Allows more people access to college||More people would go to college|
Are all community colleges free in California? No. If you meet income standards and other requirements, community college can be tuition-free. However, not all community colleges take part in the California College Promise program, and not all students qualify for waivers and grants.Does Texas have free community college? ›
The partner colleges include Dallas College, Texas A&M University-Commerce, Texas A&M University-Texarkana, Midwestern State University, and Southern Methodist University. Students are able to enter or transfer to most of the partner colleges tuition-free based on income eligibility (family income of $50,000 or less).Are community colleges worth it? ›
Are community college degrees worth anything? Yes. Many students go to community college to earn a quick associate's degree and earn more than $50,000. They can even transfer to a university and complete a bachelor's degree later if they choose to do so.
The curriculum is on par with universities and the classes can be just as challenging. There is still plenty of variety in the industry, but dozens of studies have shown that students transferring from a community college outperform their university counterparts.Who pays for college in the US? ›
Federal student aid may be used to pay for tuition, fees, books and supplies, room and board, transportation, and daycare for dependents. Students apply for federal loans by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Undergraduate students can borrow as much as $31,000 with a Federal Direct Loan.What are 3 reasons college should be free? ›
- Improves Society. When people are more educated, they can solve problems better. ...
- Widened Workforce. Along with technological progressions comes a shift in the workforce. ...
- A Boosted Economy. Most students graduate with a massive amount of debt. ...
- Increase Equality. ...
- More Focus.
- Pro: Cost of Community College. For most undergrads, college is about more than classes. ...
- Con: Lose Out on 4-Year Friendships. ...
- Pro: Community Colleges Tend to Be Local. ...
- Con: Perks and Prestige at Four-Year Universities. ...
- Pro: More Flexibility. ...
- Con: Fewer Programs.
Along with a sense of belonging, students who attend colleges with strong communities tend to feel safe in their college environments. Along with feeling physically safe on campus, students feel free to open up to others and ask for assistance when needed, which results in a more enjoyable college experience.What country has free college? ›
Norway. Norway offers free college tuition at all of its public universities for both Norwegians and international students. The Norwegian government funds these universities to help degree-seekers graduate with less debt.Which country is free education? ›
Nordic nations Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden all offer opportunities to study free or at low cost: In Norway, university study is available free of charge to all students, regardless of study level or nationality.Is college free if you are 19? ›
Unlike 16 to 18-year-olds, people aged 19 and over usually have to pay course fees, though some people qualify for free tuition and, in some cases, selected courses may be free.Is college worth the cost no? ›
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, graduates with a bachelor's degree or higher had median usual weekly earnings of $1,556 when working full-time, compared to just $866 for high school graduates with no college studies. In this way, a college degree can almost double your earning potential.Should the cost of college be reduced? ›
To ensure that hard-working students can obtain higher education while affording basic needs, it is imperative to vastly reduce or eliminate the cost of public four-year universities before it is entirely unobtainable for lower-income Americans.
The study found that 38 percent of students didn't enroll because of fears about the cost of college and amassing debt, 27 percent felt college would be “too stressful” or “too much pressure,” 26 percent believed it was more important to work and earn money, and 25 percent felt uncertainty about their career ...Would taxes increase if college was free? ›
Free college would cost on average three times what federal tax dollars pay for now.Is it good or bad for people to have a free education in the future? ›
For example, when a student is educated as opposed to not educated, it is easier to succeed in the future. Better outlook on life: Education gives children the ability to think positively and have a more positive attitude towards life. Free education guarantees that the outlook of life of all children will be the same.Does China have free college? ›
Nine-Year Compulsory Education in China
The policy is funded by government, tuition is free. Schools still charge miscellaneous fees. Senior secondary school (grade 10 to 12) and college education are not compulsory and free in China.
For the 2021-22 school year, public community colleges charge approximately $5,155 per year for in-state students and $8,835 for out-of-state students. The average yearly tuition for private community colleges is roughly $15,477 per year (Community College Review, 2021).Is education free in us? ›
Public school is free in the United States
The city, state, or federal government fund public schools so you do not have to pay. Education law says everyone has a right to free education.
The California College Promise Program is a program that provides free tuition to students who attend California community colleges for the first two years of their education. In order to qualify for the California College Promise Program, you must meet the following requirements as a: California resident.Is community college free in New York? ›
New York was the first state with a free college program covering both two- and four-year colleges, but other states, like New Mexico, are developing their own programs.At what age is college free in Texas? ›
Chapter 54 of the Texas Education Code authorizes state colleges to offer free tuition for Texas residents age 65 and older. Like most tuition waivers, the award doesn't cover fees, books, or continuing education classes.What states offer free state college to residents? ›
- California. Program: California College Promise Grant. ...
- Delaware. Program: Delaware Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) Scholarship Program. ...
- Hawaii. Program: Hawaii Promise Scholarship. ...
- Maryland. Program: Maryland Community College Promise Scholarship. ...
- Michigan. ...
- Missouri. ...
- Montana. ...
Cost of Out-of-State vs.
For the 2021-22 school year, public community colleges charge approximately $5,155 per year for in-state students and $8,835 for out-of-state students. The average yearly tuition for private community colleges is roughly $15,477 per year (Community College Review, 2021).
|Salem State University Salem, MA||$8,646|
|Bridgewater State University Bridgewater, MA||$8,353|
|Coffeyville Community College Coffeyville Community College||$2,080|
|Fitchburg State University Fitchburg, MA||$9,260|
|Framingham State University Framingham, MA||$8,320|
The Hawai'i Promise Scholarship program provides free in-state tuition for qualified University of Hawai'i Community College students with financial needs. Hawai'i Promise covers direct education costs—including tuition, fees, and an allowance for books and supplies.