Before College: Check Out Free Tuition Programs When Considering Colleges

One of the best ways to make college more affordable is to reduce tuition and fees.
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The latest available data show that, in 2017-18, the average tuition and fees charged to full-time undergraduates were:

  • $3,570 at community colleges;
  • $9,970 at in-state, public, 4-year colleges;
  • $25,620 at out-of-state, public, 4-year colleges; and
  • $34,740 at private, 4-year colleges.

But elected officials, candidates for public office and many colleges are pushing a new trend in American higher education — free tuition. Check for this as you consider applying to various postsecondary schools.

Some free tuition programs have been well-covered by the media. For example, New York’s Excelsior Grant, which offers in-state undergraduates tuition-free attendance at any school in the State University of New York and City University of New York systems. Another well-publicized state initiative is Tennessee’s Tuition Promise and Reconnect Programs. They cover full tuition at all of that state’s community colleges and technical institutes.

Rice University has an institutional plan that recently gained national attention. Rice’s tuition exceeds $40,000 a year, so it’s long offered generous scholarships. But beginning next academic year, it’s enlarging its Rice Investment Program to cover full tuition for students from even upper middle-class households.

Likewise, The University of Texas at Austin* has expanded funding for its Texas Advance Commitment to fully cover tuition for low-income undergraduates and partially cover it for the upper middle-class.

IMG_5228Across the country, other colleges are offering free tuition programs at least somewhat similar to those offered by Rice and in Austin. Be sure to look for such programs at any school you’re considering.

Most of these programs won’t actually eliminate tuition. Instead, they guarantee grants and scholarships (gift aid) sufficient to cover 100% of the tuition, and sometimes required fees, billed to students. These are usually “last dollar” awards — that is, they fill gaps remaining after federal and private gift aid is subtracted from tuition bills.

Certain other characteristics are common to these programs. Some, but not all, require students to:

  • Work while attending classes, fulfill post-graduate service requirements, or sign income-share agreements under which they pledge part of their post-graduate earnings to their institutions;
  • Have family incomes below certain thresholds, or have financial need, so the FAFSA is typically required;
  • Be residents of the states in which their colleges are located;
  • Be U.S. citizens or permanent residents;
  • Enroll full-time; and/or
  • Attend summer school or other specified academic terms.

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To find a map of the United States through which you can link to information on dozens of free tuition programs, go to the College Promise website. College Promise is an initiative of Civic Nation, to which this website is attributable.

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A word of warning . . . don’t let free tuition be the only thing you consider about colleges. It’s also essential to achieve student-institutional fit because, ultimately, the most important thing is to succeed in college!

* Note: The author is an alumnus and prior employee of The University of Texas at Austin, but College Affordability Solutions does not necessarily endorse or recommend it or any other institution cited in this article.

Contact College Affordability Solutions if you’re looking for strategies to help keep postsecondary learning affordable.