January 30, 2023


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This is what a free college in the USA looks like

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The cost of higher education in the United States has skyrocketed in the last few decades, and for many families, college is no longer within reach. Although student loans may be available, they can still be a huge financial drain long after graduation. Because of these challenges, the prospect of free tuition can be extremely attractive. The free community college was originally part of the Build Back Better Act, but the provision championed by First Lady Jill Biden was cut and the bill stalled in the Senate.

The Biden administration instead moved with a student loan assistance program that forgives debts of $20,000 for those who received a Pell grant while in college and up to $10,000 for those who didn’t have done. However, the plan is embroiled in court after being challenged by Republican-led states.

The average cost of attending college in the United States has increased from $10,648 in 1963 to $25,910 in 2020, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. And when costs go up, enrollments go down. Enrollment at all private and public colleges fell 7.4% between 2020 and 2022, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

One result is that free college programs have grown over the years and are now available in nearly 30 states. Some offer free tuition nationwide with few admissions restrictions, while others set limits based on income, merit, geography, or programs, according to the Campaign for Free College Tuition.

Study.com collected information about every state that offers some form of free tuition from state government sources, news reports, and the Free Tuition Campaign.



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States that “promise” free community colleges.

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There are free community colleges in at least a dozen states. Funds may be available through College Promise programs, a nonprofit initiative designed to fund the first two or more years of college. These programs can be described as “first dollar” where College Promise funds are made available to students first before any other scholarship. “Last dollar” programs are when tuition and mandatory fees are paid after all available federal and state aid has been applied.

State programs may vary, with Michigan, for example, offering free tuition to adults and students who were essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other states that offer free community college to some or all students include Arkansas, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Tennessee.



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States offering limited free tuition

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Limited free tuition is available in several states including Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, South Dakota, Virginia and West Virginia. States can determine which fields of study are eligible for scholarships or who can receive them.

Arkansas focuses on students enrolled in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors or high-demand regional majors. The Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program helps students in fields such as advanced manufacturing, construction and healthcare earn a diploma or industry-recognized certificate once state and federal grants and scholarships have been applied for. Kansas specifies areas such as information technology and security, mental and physical health care, manufacturing and construction, and early childhood education and development. South Dakota appeals to those seeking a career that uses their hands as well as their brains for a Build Dakota Fellowship.



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States offering free tuition for four years

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Some states such as Indiana, New Mexico, New York and Washington state offer free tuition for all four years of college. Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars program enrolls children between the seventh and eighth grades. As of July 2022, New Mexico will pay all tuition for state residents attending public colleges and universities. The New York Excelsior Scholarship covers four years of tuition, including professional training certificates and associate and bachelor’s degrees. Washington State makes an early commitment to providing financial assistance to students enrolling in the College Bound Scholarship in middle school. It offers average public college tuition, some fees, and a book allowance at more than 65 colleges, universities, and technical schools in the state.

This story originally appeared on Study.com and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.


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