College is an exciting time. You get to have a slew of new experiences while learning what you want to do with the rest of your life. However, a traditional, four-year college may not be for everybody. That’s why many students choose community college. Community college is great for people who like to learn at their own speed in a less stressful environment. It’s also a good place for students to take some of their basic classes in preparation to transfer to a larger school.
Even though community college is far less expensive than larger schools, it’s not cheap. Even for in-state students, community college can cost well over $3,000 an academic year, on average. That doesn’t even take into account things like textbooks, health care and a living expenses.
Luckily, many states offer programs to help pay for community college. In this article, we’ll let you know which states have community college tuition-free programs. We’ll also go over how some of these programs work and what requirements you’ll need to meet to qualify for them.
How Tuition-Free Community College Works
While tuition and enrollment fees make up a large part of college expenses, there’s a lot more you’ll have to pay for in college. Tuition-free programs don’t cover the price of things like textbooks, room and board, and food. Still, they can save you a good deal of money and let you graduate with less debt. There are two types of programs that pay for college tuition.
First-dollar programs will pay for your college before you apply for other federal and state funding. Last-dollar programs are much more common. They only pay for your college after you’ve accepted all the federal and state grants and scholarships you’re eligible for.
Each state that offers tuition-free community college has its own rules for who qualifies. When deciding acceptance criteria, states take into account things like past academic performance, age and what career path a student is pursuing.
States With Tuition-Free Community College Programs
In the next few sections, we’ll touch on states that offer free tuition for community college and go into detail about each program’s eligibility requirements. Tuition-free programs can vary greatly depending on the state they’re located in.
California’s College Promise Grant is a first-dollar program. It gives free community college to any California citizen, provided that it’s their first time attending college. To be accepted, you have to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or a California Dream Act Application.
You’ll also have to prove financial need and agree to take 30 course credits a year. The California Promise Grant will pay for up to two years of community college.
Delaware’s Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) initiative is a last-dollar plan that offers scholarships to students enrolled in the University of Delaware who are completing their Associate of Arts two-year program or are enrolled in a degree plan at Delaware Technical Community College.
To get in, you must be a high school graduate, complete the FAFSA and get accepted to one of the schools involved. While students don’t have to have financial need to qualify for this program, students who do are considered for the program first.
If you get the scholarship, you’ll have to go to school in the fall immediately after graduating from high school. If you plan on taking a year off, this plan isn’t for you. You need a full course load and must apply for the program on April 1 of your senior year in high school, if not sooner.
You can’t use the scholarship for more than six semesters consecutively, and you have to keep your grade point average (GPA) at 2.5 or above.
Hawaii’s Promise Scholarship is a last-dollar program that gives scholarships to students going to University of Hawaii community colleges. Any student who completes the FAFSA, is a Hawaii citizen, and is pursuing a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) career can apply.
To stay in, you’ll have to take six credits or more every semester. You can’t apply if you already have a bachelor’s degree. You must also adhere to Hawaii’s Community College’s Satisfactory Academic Progress policy. You’ll have to accept any financial aid you’re offered before you can use the program.
Maryland’s Community College Promise Scholarship is a last-dollar plan that gives grants to students pursuing credit-bearing vocational certificates, associate degrees, registered apprenticeships, or other licenses and certifications.
You can qualify if you graduated high school in Maryland or if you have received a general educational development (GED). You have to fill out the FAFSA or Maryland State Financial Aid Application (MSFAA).
There are income requirements for Maryland’s program, and you have to qualify for in-state tuition. If you’ve already gone to community college, you must not have gotten a bachelor’s or associate degree. You also can’t have accepted scholarships or grants in the past.
If you have attended community college in the past, you must have had a GPA of at least 2.5. If you’ve only graduated high school, you must have had a GPA of at least a 2.3 in your final year.
Missouri’s A+ Scholarship Program is a last-dollar plan that helps students who graduate from qualified Missouri high schools pay for public community colleges and vocational schools involved with the program.
You need to fill out the FAFSA, attend a Missouri high school for at least three years before graduating, and meet certain criteria for things like attendance, GPA and citizenship. While you’re in high school, you’ll need at least a 2.5 GPA (on a 4.0 scale) and an attendance record of 95% or above to qualify for the program. You’ll also have to complete 50 hours of unpaid mentoring.
You must have a full community college or technical school course load and can’t be getting your college degree in theology or divinity. To be eligible for renewal, you’ll need to keep a 2.5 GPA. You’ll have to qualify for federal aid if you hope to get this scholarship.
Montana’s Promise Act is a last-dollar grant program that helps students in Montana pay for two-year colleges. It’s available to students in community colleges, tribal colleges, or two-year Montana universities who have been Montana citizens for at least a year.
To be accepted, you have to complete the FAFSA and take advantage of all grants (federal and state) available to you. When you get to college, you’ll have to take six or more credit hours each semester.
You can’t have a degree or have gotten over 60 hours of credit at a tertiary institution. To keep your grant, you’ll need to have a 2.5 GPA. You also must have graduated high school or completed a high school equivalency program.
Nevada’s Promise Scholarship is a last-dollar program that lets residents go to any Nevada community college. Any Nevada citizen under 20 can get help from the program with a high school degree (from a Nevada school or bordering county school).
You’ll have to fill out the program application, apply to one of the community colleges and submit a FAFSA application. There are also mentoring (one mentoring opportunity) and community service (20 hours) requirements.
You’ll need to go to two informational training sessions, and you can’t be in default on any federal student loans or owe anything to federal student aid programs. The plan is unavailable to anyone who already has a degree.
Oklahoma’s Promise is a last-dollar plan that gives Oklahoma citizens help with tuition at a public, two-year college, or four-year college, or it pays part of the tuition for qualifying private colleges and public technology centers.
You must be eligible for financial aid to get it. You need to have completed 8th, 9th, or 10th grade at an Oklahoma high school, and your family income must be $55,000 or less a year. You’ll have to fill out the application for the program during your 8th, 9th, or 10th-grade year.
After graduating high school, you’ll have three years to apply to the program. You must not have a bachelor’s degree and meet the satisfactory academic progress policy for your school. If you’re suspended for more than one semester, you will automatically be kicked out of the program and lose your aid.
Oregon’s Promise program is a middle-dollar plan (last-dollar with additional funds for expenses like textbooks) that helps students who have recently graduated from an Oregon high school (within a year) pay for college. The grant is only available to students with a 2.5 GPA or higher who have been Oregon citizens for over a year. GED holders who scored a 145 or above on their test may also qualify.
You can’t have attempted more than 90 hours of college credit in the past. You also have to meet requirements for federal aid and complete a first-year experience program, which might be different depending on which school you choose.
Rhode Island’s Promise Scholarship is a last-dollar program that helps the state’s high school graduates get free tuition and payment of mandatory fees for the Community College of Rhode Island.
To get the scholarship, you’ll have to fill out the FAFSA and an Attestation of Understanding Form, and you must have been 19 or younger when you graduated high school, or you must have gotten a GED in or after 2017.
To keep this scholarship, you’ll have to be enrolled in the fall and spring for two years, keep a GPA of at least 2.5 and earn 30 credit hours every year.
Tennessee’s Promise program is a last-dollar plan that helps students who will be attending a qualifying community college. It can be used for any community college, technical college, or public or private university with two-year programs in Tennessee. You’ll need to submit the FAFSA before applying.
To qualify, you must have graduated high school or received your GED while you were under 19. To keep your eligibility, you’ll have to attend mentoring meetings and complete at least eight hours of community service each college term. Your GPA will need to be 2.0 or higher, and you’ll enroll in the fall immediately after finishing high school or getting your GED.
Tennessee’s Reconnect program is basically the same as the Tennessee Promise program, but it’s for people aged 24 and older. To qualify for the Reconnect program, you’ll need to complete the FAFSA and get status as an independent student. You can’t have a prior associate or bachelor’s degree, and you have to be a Tennessee resident for at least a year before you can apply.
Get More Information About Community College Tuition at CollegeFinance.com
Choosing to attend community college can give you a personalized learning experience that costs far less than an education from a four-year university. However, community college is still costly.
If you can qualify for free community college, you’ll be able to maximize your chances of graduating with much less debt. If you eventually decide you want a university experience, you can always transfer later on.
Paying for college can be stressful. CollegeFinance.com has resources to help you learn more about community college, tuition, financial aid and related topics. See how to do things like transfer credits from high school to college and learn which lenders might be right for you.