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Even though the plan to make community college tuition-free was removed from the federal Build Back Better bill in February 2022, state-based free community college programs and other low-cost college-level programs remain. Many also offer robust programs to help students get a degree, especially in high-demand areas.
That is good news, especially when combined with the recently announced federal college loan forgiveness program.
Community colleges are two-year schools where students can earn an associate degree or certificate or get career training. Community colleges can help post-high school students earn general education credits before transferring to a four-year college or university, learn technical skills for specific jobs, or just be a more flexible, cost-effective option for people with challenging finances or schedules.
If we do experience a recession (which some experts are saying could be on the horizon in 2023) and if unemployment rises, it might be the perfect opportunity to get retrained or pursue that degree you planned in the past.
So, Can You Go To School for Free Where You Live?
As of September 2022, a majority (over half) of states offer two years of post-high school education grant programs, generally as part of a community college program. Additional states may begin to offer programs, so do a search on your state government website to see if there are programs available. High school students can also check with their guidance counselor.
Some offer the money up front without looking at any other funds you may have secured, like scholarships (“first-dollar” programs), and others fill in any gap in funds you might have between what you might receive in financial aid and what you need to attend (“last-dollar” scholarship/grant).
What To Know Before You Look at Schools
But before I talk about the states with community college programs, it’s important to know that the offerings and criteria vary widely, and there are various application deadlines and eligibility requirements. So, just being a resident of a state doesn’t mean you’ll be able to attend for free.
Some of the programs are designed to encourage students to earn credentials for in-demand jobs, while others focus on income and other criteria. Still, if you’re open to possibilities, you could find yourself in a well-paying career for little to no upfront monetary investment — that’s an investment in time worth pursuing.
States Offering Free and Low-Cost College Programs
Arkansas: The Arkansas Futures Grant is a last-dollar grant for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) students or those studying in a regionally high-demand field.
California: The state offers some grant programs for community college students.
Connecticut: The state’s 12 community colleges are merging to become CT State, which will help simplify processes. You can read details on the state education website.
Delaware: Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) is a last-dollar program that provides free tuition for community college and also some one-year BA programs and two-year programs at the University of Delaware. Other programs can be found on the Deleware Department of Education website.
Georgia: The Georgia Student Finance Commission has a website devoted to available resources for attending community college. Review the state’s educational website for information on what is covered and which programs may qualify for grants which you won’t have to pay back (versus a loan).
Hawaii: Hawai’i Promise is a last-dollar program for qualified University of Hawai’i Community College students.
Indiana: Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars Program is a different model and requires parents to enroll their children in seventh or eighth grade. Residents can find scholarships here.
Iowa: Iowa’s program is called the Future Ready Iowa Last-Dollar Scholarship.
Kentucky: The Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program provides free tuition to students pursuing degrees or certificates for in-demand sectors of the Kentucky economy.
Louisiana: The Taylor Opportunity Program for Students provides funding for a range of educational options, including community college, and the state also offers a Workforce Solutions program to support students training in state-needed occupations. While the coverage may not be 100% of tuition, talking with a local expert at the state program can help determine what could be fully covered.
Maine: Community college funding programs can be found on the state’s scholarship site. It’s worth noting here that free college is only for high school grads in the past few years and next year (2023).
Michigan: Education funding program information is available on the state’s Reconnect website.
Mississippi: The Higher Education Legislative Plan (HELP) provides full tuition to qualified students for up to four years.
Missouri: The A+ Scholarship Program provides funds to eligible graduates of designated high schools who attend a participating public or private community college or vocational/technical school.
Nevada: The Nevada Promise Scholarship is last-dollar aid that provides up to three years of assistance.
New Jersey: The Community College Opportunity Grant, a need-based program, is new in New Jersey as of 2018.
New York: New York’s Excelsior Scholarship Program provides tuition for qualifying two- and four-year programs at both CUNY and SUNY schools.
New Mexico: The New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship can be used toward a training certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree.
North Carolina: A needs-based grant, the North Carolina Community College Grant can help students through eight semesters of education. Grants may not cover all tuition costs, so talking with a local expert at the state program can help determine what could be fully covered.
Oklahoma: Oklahoma’s Promise is a need-based scholarship for students, who can apply starting in the eighth grade.
Oregon: Oregon Promise is a grant that provides tuition for any community college in the state.
Rhode Island: Rhode Island Promise provides free community college tuition to all state residents directly after high school.
South Dakota: The Build Dakota Scholarship Fund is specifically designed to provide tuition funding for technical degrees.
Tennessee: Tennessee Promise provides a last-dollar scholarship for tuition to the 40 community and technical colleges across the state.
Utah: The Access Utah Promise Scholarship is a needs-based award for students to help pay tuition and fees. It may not cover all tuition costs, so talking with a local expert at the state program can help determine what could be fully covered.
Virginia: The Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back initiative (G3) provides free tuition in high-demand fields for low and middle-income students.
Washington: The College Bound Scholarship pays for tuition, some fees, and a small book allowance that students can use at more than 65 colleges, universities, and technical schools in the state. Students enroll in the program in middle school.
West Virginia: West Virginia Invests is a last-dollar program that provides tuition to qualifying students who are pursuing specific in-demand degrees and certificates.
Wyoming: The state offers the Hathaway Scholarship Program, which provides merit and need-based awards. Again, like in some other states, the scholarship may not cover all tuition costs, so talking with a local expert at the state program can help determine what could be fully covered.
Vermont: The McClure Free Degree Promise offers all Vermont students who are currently in grades 8-11 a free associate degree at the Community College of Vermont the year after high school graduation.