States That Offer Free College Tuition Programs

By Jacqueline DeMarco · September 18, 2023 · 6 minute read

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States That Offer Free College Tuition Programs

It’s no secret that college can be expensive. What’s not-so-widely known is that there are a number of states that offer eligible residents free tuition for both two- and four-year degree programs.

While many of these programs only cover tuition (not room and board and other expenses), they can be a huge help if you are looking for an affordable way to get a college degree. Read on to learn more about how free college programs work, where to find them, and how to fill in any remaining financing gaps.

What Are Free College Tuition Programs?

Free college tuition programs are typically state-sponsored programs that offer free tuition to eligible students. To qualify, you typically need to be a resident of the state and, in some cases, demonstrate financial need. Some states will also award free tuition to students that come from communities that are underrepresented in college attendance​ or who are first generation college students.

Often, tuition-free programs only cover the cost of tuition, which means you may still have other expenses to cover, including fees, supplies, and room and board. However, there are some free college tuition programs that will cover school fees or provide stipends for necessary expenses like textbooks.

💡 Quick Tip: You can fund your education with a low-rate, no-fee private student loan that covers all school-certified costs.

States With Free College Tuition

What follows is a roundup of states that offer free tuition to two-year, four-year, and/or certificate programs.

California Promise Program

The California College Promise Grant waives fees for nearly half of students in the California Community College system , while others only need to pay $46-per-unit fee. For example, if you’re a California resident enrolling in 12 units, you would pay $552 each semester. Students that live out of state pay more.

Indiana 21st Century Scholars Program

The 21st Century Scholars Program encourages Indiana students in the 7th and 8th grade to stay in school and keep up their grades by promising them money for college if they meet program requirements.

Oklahoma’s Promise

To qualify for the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship program, Oklahoma students must be enrolled in the 8th, 9th, or 10th grade and their parents’ federal adjusted gross income can’t exceed $60,000 (with one or two dependent children) or $70,000 (with three or four dependent children).

New York Excelsior Scholarship

Through the Excelsior Scholarship , New York families and individuals that make up to $125,000 a year will qualify to attend college tuition-free at all CUNY and SUNY two- and four-year colleges in New York State.

Washington College Bound

In the state of Washington, students can apply to participate in the College Bound scholarship program, which gives eligible students public college tuition, or an equivalent amount for an approved private college or career school. Students must apply for financial aid and attend a participating college in Washington.

Recommended: In-State Tuition: a Look at Establishing Residency

Arkansas Future Grant

The Arkansas Future Grant covers the cost of tuition and fees for certain certificate and associate degree programs at public education institutions in Arkansas.

Delaware SEED Program

The Delaware SEED Program gives scholarships to Delawareans of all ages who would like to pursue an academic degree (including an associate or bachelor’s degree) or a workforce training certificate at Delaware Tech.

Hawai’i Promise Scholarship

The Hawai’i Promise Scholarship provides free in-state tuition to students with financial needs who attend the University of Hawai’i Community College. This program covers direct education costs including tuition, books, supplies, transportation, and school fees.

Kentucky Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program

The Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program assists Kentucky college and high school students in paying for tuition as they work towards earning an industry‐recognized certificate or diploma.

Maryland Community College Promise Scholarship

Students who are pursuing certificates, vocational certificates, or associate degrees may qualify for the Maryland Community College Promise Scholarship if all other aid options are exhausted and they are enrolled in select Maryland community college programs.

Minnesota MnSCU Two-Year Occupational Grant Pilot Program

Minnesota students may qualify for financial assistance through the MnSCU Two-Year Occupational Grant Pilot Program if enrolled in qualifying career and technical programs at MnSCU two-year college.

Missouri A+ Scholarship

Missouri students who attended A+ designated high schools may qualify for the Missouri A+ Scholarship if they attend a select public community college, vocational school, or technical school.

Montana Promise Act

Students attending a two-year institution of the Montana university system and taking select courses may qualify for the Montana Promise Act . To be eligible, students must be enrolled in a Montana community or tribal college, or other Montana university system two-year institution at least part-time.

Recommended: What Is the Cost of Attendance in College?

Nevada Promise Scholarship

The Nevada Promise Scholarship is a last-dollar scholarship that can cover up to three years of tuition and mandatory fees not covered by other forms of gift aid for Nevada high school graduates to attend community college.

The Oregon Promise Grant

Oregon students seeking assistance paying for college should consider applying for the Oregon Promise
which covers the tuition costs at any Oregon community college for students who recently graduated high school or passed the GED test.

Recommended: What Are College Tuition Payment Plans and How Do They Work?

Rhode Island Promise

The Rhode Island Promise program allows recent Rhode Island high school graduates to obtain an associate degree at the Community College of Rhode Island tuition-free.

Tennessee Promise

The Tennessee Promise program is a scholarship and mentoring program for students attending any of Tennessee’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology, or other select eligible institutions.

Finding Ways to Pay for College

Free tuition programs may not be available to all students. In that case, paying for college may require compiling together a few different sources of financing.

Students can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) each year to apply for federal aid, including scholarships, grants, federal student loans, and work-study programs.

If college students need help covering the costs of pursuing higher education and don’t receive enough financial aid to do so, they have the option of applying for private student loans. Unlike federal student loans, which are issued by the U.S. government, private loans come from private institutions, such as banks, credit unions, and online lenders.

Generally, students will want to exhaust federal student loans first, as they come with government-backed benefits such as low fixed interest rates and income-driven repayment plans that are not available with private student loans.

While private student loans can cost more than federal student loans, you can often borrow up to the total cost of attendance (including room and board), which gives you more borrowing power than you can get with the federal government.

💡 Quick Tip: Would-be borrowers will want to understand the different types of student loans that are available: private student loans, federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans, Direct PLUS loans, and more.

The Takeaway

Some states offer free tuition programs that provide residents with resources to help cover their tuition costs. For those that qualify, these programs can provide much-needed financing to help them pursue their education goals.

Sometimes, state and federal aid isn’t enough to cover a students’ college costs. In that case, some students may explore private student loans. Though these loans may lack some of the borrower protections available for federal student loans, they can be an option for filling in funding gaps. When shopping for private student loans, it can be helpful to compare potential interest rates and fees with different lenders to find the best deal.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

Photo credit: iStock/Vimvertigo

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