Community college is often a great choice financially for students to gain valuable higher education at little cost to them, especially if they live in a state offering community college tuition-free. This article discusses which states have free community college programs and what the requirements are for each.
Is Free Community College Really Free?
When community college is described as “free,” it generally means there are no tuition costs to take courses. However, you should be mindful of the additional costs (not generally covered by the state) associated with attendance, including transportation costs, living expenses, textbooks, and supplies.
Sometimes, additional expenses might be covered as well, either as part of the “free” package or as part of your financial aid (which might include a federally funded Pell Grant, as well as scholarships and grants from other sources you may have applied.) In some states, free community college is limited to low-income students, while in others, it is available to everyone. Some states offer this free funding for four-year college students as well.
Many of the “free” programs require you to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and accept any associated grants before they will cover the rest of the tuition. This is often referred to as a “last dollar” program because it funds the rest of your college tuition after you have already covered part of it with grants. Exact requirements for each state vary, as described in the next section.
States With Free Community College Programs
It’s important to know the details in any situation, so you know what to expect in terms of total expenses. Read on to learn about the free community college programs offered by participating states, including what’s covered and eligibility requirements.
Arkansas offers the Arkansas Future Grant, which is a last-dollar grant for community college students who pursue two-year programs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields or other sectors in high demand. Both tuition and fees are covered under this program.
To qualify, you must have graduated from an Arkansas public school or earned a high school equivalency diploma and have lived in the state for three years before applying. In addition, eight hours of community service are required per semester, and you must work full-time in the state for three consecutive years after graduating.
The California Promise program is a first-dollar program, which means it provides free tuition for students without regard to other funding the student might be eligible for. You must be a California resident to be eligible, however.
Both students who plan on earning a two-year degree and those planning on earning a four-year degree may apply to this program, which offers funding for education at public colleges and universities in the state. You must attend school full-time, which means completing at least 30-semester units per academic year.
The Pledge to Advance Connecticut (PACT) program offers last-dollar funding for Connecticut high school graduates or resident GED earners who are first-time college students.
To qualify for PACT funding, you must take part in a degree or credit-bearing certificate program, remain in good academic standing, and earn at least 12 credits per term. There are currently no income requirements, and the program covers up to 72 credits over 36 months.
In Delaware, the Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) program is a last-dollar program covering full-time student tuition for two-year programs at any Delaware Technical Community College or for the Associate of Arts program at the University of Delaware.
To be eligible, you must have a minimum 2.5 grade point average (GPA) or a combined score of 1350 on the new SAT or a score of at least 19 on the ACT. You must apply by April 1 as a high school senior for the following fall and reapply each subsequent year for a maximum of three years.
Georgia offers the HOPE Career Grant covering tuition at in-state public and technical colleges for students entering a field in which there are plenty of job openings. (A complete list of qualifying programs of study can be found here.) To qualify, you must be a legal resident of Georgia, meet enrollment requirements, and academic achievement standards.
The Hawaii Promise Scholarship is a last-dollar program covering tuition for students enrolled for at least six credits at a University of Hawaii community college. Besides tuition, this program may cover fees, books, supplies, and transportation. Students must also maintain standards of academic progress.
The 21st Century Scholars Program in Indiana offers up to four years of tuition to state residents who make a commitment to the program in 7th or 8th grade. Students must maintain good academic performance through high school and avoid drugs and other illegal activities. Income threshold limits also apply.
A high school GPA of 2.5 is required, in addition to completion of the Scholar Success Program and graduating high school with an Indiana Core 40 Diploma. While in college, students must complete at least 30 credit hours per year, maintain good academic standing, and complete at least one college engagement and one career preparation activity per year.
The Future Ready Iowa Last-Dollar Scholarship covers tuition for over two dozen career programs considered high-demand careers across the state. You must be an Iowa resident to qualify and a recent high school graduate enrolling in an eligible program full-time or enrolling part-time while employed in an approved work-based learning program. Adult learners aged 20 or older starting an eligible program at least part-time may also qualify.
Kansas offers the Kansas Career Technical Workforce Grant for students enrolled in certain career technical education programs in high demand. You must have graduated from a Kansas high school, obtained a GED in Kansas, or graduated from a home school program in the state.
Maximum award amounts are $1,000 per year for full-time students and are renewable for up to four semesters, provided you maintain satisfactory academic progress and submit the renewal application on time.
In Kentucky, the Work First Kentucky Scholarship offers free community college tuition for those pursuing degrees in certain high-demand fields, such as health care, manufacturing, transportation and logistics, business services and IT, or construction.
To be eligible, you must be a U.S. citizen and a Kentucky resident who has graduated high school with at least a 2.0 GPA or completed a GED program.
The Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) in Louisiana provides state scholarships for residents attending a Louisiana public college or university or any school part of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System. Approved proprietary and cosmetology schools may also qualify.
This program offers four different awards. The TOPS Opportunity Award requires a minimum high school GPA of 2.50, completion of at least 19 core units of the TOPS Core Curriculum, a minimum ACT score of 20, and full-time enrollment after high school graduation. The TOPS Performance and TOPS Honors awards have stricter requirements and offer more funding, and the TOPS Tech Award focuses on helping high school graduates entering certain fields of high need.
Maryland’s Community College Promise Scholarship provides up to $5,000 in funding for students attending two-year community college vocational courses. To be eligible, you must have a high school education with a GPA of at least 2.3 or a GED and have an income of no more than $100,000 annually ($150,000 if married or residing in a two-parent household). Recipients must agree to work full-time in the state within one year after earning their degree or certificate.
The Mississippi Tuition Assistance Grant provides financial assistance to residents attending state-approved public and private not-for-profit two-year and four-year schools. This award, however, only covers up to $500 per academic year for freshmen and sophomores and $1,000 per year for juniors and seniors.
Missouri’s A+ Scholarship program offers last-dollar grants to resident students attending community colleges or vocational/technical schools in the state. You must have at least a 2.5 high school GPA with a 95% attendance record for grades 9 through 12 and have provided at least 50 hours of unpaid tutoring or mentoring before graduation.
The Montana Promise Grant Program provides last-dollar funding for resident high school graduates or GED recipients pursuing an associate degree or professional credential at one of the state’s two-year tribal or community colleges. A high school GPA of 2.5 or higher is required, and you must not have already earned an associate degree or completed more than 60 credit hours to qualify.
The Nevada Promise Scholarship is another last-dollar program. The program allows residents to attend any of the state’s four community colleges tuition-free. You must be a high school graduate under the age of 20 to qualify, complete two mandatory informational training sessions, 20 hours of community service, and at least one mentoring opportunity before applying.
New Jersey offers the Community College Opportunity Grant (CCOG) for students enrolled in one of the state’s 18 county colleges. To qualify, you must enroll for at least six credits per semester and have an adjusted gross income of less than $65,000. This grant offers last-dollar funding for qualifying students.
The Excelsior Scholarship Program in New York covers up to $5,500 in tuition expenses for resident students attending any two-year or four-year school in the State University of New York (SUNY) or City University of New York (CUNY) systems.
To qualify, you must be a high school graduate, earned an equivalency diploma, or passed an Ability-to-Benefit (ATB) test. An adjusted gross income limit of $125,000 applies, and you must be a U.S. citizen and New York resident for at least the year prior to enrollment. You must also complete at least 12 credits per term and 30 credits per year.
The Oklahoma Promise program offers 8th, 9th, and 10th-grade students the ability to earn free tuition at any public two-year or four-year school in the state. To qualify, family income must be less than $55,000 per year, and students must complete a prescribed list of high school coursework and avoid suspension for conduct issues.
The Oregon Promise program provides last-dollar funding at any community college in the state. Recipients must be enrolled at least half-time and complete a First-Year Experience program. To qualify, you must be a resident high school graduate with at least a 2.5 GPA or a GED recipient. This program covers up to 12 credits per term and a maximum of 90 credits in total.
Resident high school graduates younger than 19 years with a minimum 2.5 GPA may qualify for the Rhode Island Promise program. This program offers last-dollar tuition coverage for full-time students pursuing an associate degree at the Community College of Rhode Island.
Build Dakota is a scholarship program and provides last-dollar funding for tuition, fees, books, and other expenses at eligible technical programs for students pursuing a degree or certificate in a high-demand field. Both in-state and out-of-state students of all ages may qualify, provided you agree to continue living and working in the state in your field of study for three years after graduation.
The Tennessee Promise program provides last-dollar funding for students attending one of 40 eligible community or technical two-year colleges in the state. To qualify, you must be a high school graduate, maintain at least a 2.0 GPA, perform eight hours of community service per term, attend mandatory mentoring meetings, and be enrolled full-time in the fall following your high school graduation.
If you are over the age of 24, you may qualify for the Tennessee Reconnect program, which provides similar last-dollar benefits for first-time college students.
Utah residents who receive a Federal Pell Grant might be eligible for last-dollar funding at Salt Lake Community College. To qualify, you must take nine or more credits in the fall and spring and six or more credits during the summer and maintain a 2.0 GPA.
Washington offers a need-based College Bound Scholarship program covering tuition, some fees, and providing a small book allowance for up to four years of college. However, to qualify, you must apply by June 30 of your 8th-grade year, meet certain income requirements, and maintain a 2.0 GPA in high school.
You must graduate from a Washington State high school to qualify; GED recipients are not eligible. You must also complete your degree within five years of graduating from high school. While you may attend college part-time, you will not receive reduced funds if you do.
The West Virginia Invests Grant program provides last-dollar funding for residents attending certain in-demand certificate and associate degree programs at West Virginia public institutions.
To qualify, you must not already hold an associate degree or higher, be a legal resident for at least one year prior to applying, pass drug screenings, maintain a 2.0 GPA, and complete at least six credit hours each term. Community service requirements also apply, and you must agree to stay in West Virginia for two years after leaving school.
Discover More About the Costs of College at CollegeFinance.com
The list above may not be comprehensive, as many non-participating states consider similar programs periodically. In fact, the government may soon offer free community college nationally.
But whether you qualify for free tuition, CollegeFinance.com offers all the resources and information you need to plan for your education, including how to save for the cost of tuition, how to apply for financial aid and scholarships, how to obtain student loans, and how to pay off student debt after graduation. Check out the resources at CollegeFinance.com today.