About one out of every four college students in the United States attend a community college. This amounts to nearly six million people.
There are a lot of benefits to attending a community college. One of the most obvious advantages is how much money can be saved on education when you attend a community college. The average cost of tuition for the coming academic year at a private college is $38,185, while the average cost of a community college for an in-state student is $3,660.
This means that community college is less than 10% of the cost of attending a private college or university.
Is community college free? The answer to this question depends on a number of different factors. Let’s take a look at everything you need to know to help you plan out how to receive an affordable college education.
Is Community College Free?
In most states, community college is not free. However, there are nineteen states in the US that offer free community college programs. This means that you might be able to avoid many of the steep costs of furthering your education.
Attending community college can be an opportunity for students to learn at their own pace and ease into the world of higher education. This is particularly true for students who aren’t quite sure whether college is right for them or for people who struggled in high school.
It’s also possible to receive federal student loans for community college. In order to be eligible, you have to be enrolled half-time. This typically means about two-course or six credit hours. Be warned that if you drop out of class, though, you risk raising your financial aid reward.
One of the other great reasons to attend community college is that it can be just a stepping stone in your educational journey. It is common for two-year schools to have agreements with public colleges that allow students who are qualified to easily transfer their credits so that they can seamlessly transition to pursuing a bachelor’s degree.
How Much Does Community College Cost?
While community college is not necessarily free, it’s worth understanding just how much cheaper it is than other types of schools. As mentioned above, it is less than 10% of the cost each year, on average, as a private college. It is still less than half the cost of public in-state universities, which have an average tuition of $10,338 each year.
With an average cost of $3,660 a year for in-state students, community college becomes a viable option for many more Americans than private or public universities.
If you are budgeting out your college plan, however, you want to be aware of additional costs that will be relevant. The cost of tuition is only one of the expenses that you will need to plan for.
Even if you are able to benefit from a free community college program, you’ll have to think about how you will pay for room, board, textbooks, transportation, and more. These costs will need to be covered out of pocket if you are using a free community college program to help with your tuition.
Which States Offer Free Community College Programs?
What Is Tuition-Free College?
If you are able to meet the qualifications for tuition-free programs in the states that have these programs, you won’t have to deal with the hefty tuition fees. However, this doesn’t mean that the other associated costs are taken care of for you. You will still have to budget for your housing, textbooks, and more. That being said, tuition-free programs can make a huge difference in the overall cost of your college experience.
What’s the Difference Between First-Dollar and Last Dollar Grants?
It’s worth taking a moment to understand the difference between first-dollar and last-dollar grants. Many of the free community college programs are “last-dollar” programs. Only a handful offer what is known as a “first-dollar” program.
The more common of the two, last-dollar programs, are awarded to students to help cover the cap between the cost of tuition and how much funding the student has already received. This means that federal financial aid and other types of aid is taken into account before awarding tuition money.
The less common of the two, first-dollar programs, waives tuition for students without consideration of the other grants or funding that the student might be able to qualify for.
(Do you have to pay back grants? Learn more here.)
Cheap College: Which States Have the Cheapest Community College?
There are a number of states where free community college programs are offered. Each state has different eligibility requirements and the programs function in different ways depending on which state you’re in.
Through the Arkansas Future Grant, the state of Arkansas offers last-dollar grants for students who are pursuing a 2-year program in STEM fields or other high demand sectors. Both tuition and fees will be covered for students through this program.
The California Promise program is one of the handful of first-dollar programs. This means that the other funding a student is eligible for doesn’t impact their ability to receive free tuition. In order to be eligible, you must be a California resident.
The last-dollar funding program of the Pledge to Advance Connecticut (PACT) provides tuition for resident GED earners who are first time college students and for Connecticut high school graduates. While there are no income requirements for the program, there are a number of other qualifications in order to be eligible including remaining in good academic standing.
The Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) program covers full-time student tuition for the Associate of Arts program at the University of Delaware or at any Delaware Technical Community College. In order to be eligible, you need to meet certain SAT or ACT scores or have a minimum 2.5-grade point average (GPA).
The HOPE Career Grant is offered in Georgia to help cover tuition at both technical colleges and in-state public colleges. This is geared for students who are entering a job field where there is high demand for workers.
A last-dollar program, the Hawaii Promise Scholarship helps to cover tuition for students that attend a University community college for at least six credits. This program actually covers more than tuition, covering the cost of books, fees, supplies, and even transportation.
You can receive up to four years of tuition through the 21st Century Scholars Program if you are a qualifying Indiana resident. One of the qualification requirements is that you make a commitment to the program while you are in the 7th or 8th grade.
In order to qualify for the Future Ready Iowa Last-Dollar Scholarship, you must be an Iowa resident as well as a recent high school graduate. Furthermore, you need to be enrolling part-time while also engaging in a work-based learning program or enrolling in an eligible program full-time. This program intends to cover tuition for students who are studying in fields that are in high demand career-wise.
(Wondering what work-study is? Check out this article.)
The Kansas Career Technical Workforce Grant is available to people who have graduated from a high school or home school program in Kansas, as well as those who have obtained a GED in the state. This program awards a maximum amount of $1,000 per year for full-time students. The grant can be renewed for up to four semesters.
The Work First Kentucky Scholarship pays for the tuition costs of students pursuing studies in fields that are in high demand. These include manufacturing, health care, business services and IT, transportation and logistics, or construction.
There are four different awards offered by the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS). These are the TOPS Opportunity Award, the TOPS Performance Award, the TOPS Honors Awards, and the TOPS Tech Award.
Students can receive up to $5,000 in funding through Maryland’s Community College Promise Scholarship. This goes towards the tuition for two-year community college vocational courses. There are a number of factors you will have to meet in order to qualify.
Additionally, a part of the agreement is that you will work full-time within one year after earning your certificate or degree in the state.
Residents that are attending state-approved private and public non-profit schools can receive financial assistance through the Mississippi Tuition Assistance Grant. However, this program won’t cover all of the tuition but just a portion of it.
(Are you wondering if you missed the deadline to apply to college? Look at this article to learn more about college application due dates.)
Missouri residents that are attending vocational/technical schools or community colleges can receive last-dollar grants through the A+ Scholarship program. In order to qualify, you need to have a high school GPA of at least 2.5 as well as meet a number of other criteria.
This is a last-dollar funding program for GED recipients or resident high school graduates. Known as the Montana Promise Grant Program, this funding can go towards attendance at one of Montana’s two-year community colleges or tribal colleges.
This last-dollar program offers residents the opportunity to attend the four community colleges in the state without paying tuition. The program goes by the name of the Nevada Promise Scholarship and there are a number of specific criteria you need to fulfill in order to qualify, including being under 20 years old.
The Community College Opportunity Grants is a last-dollar funding program. You must have an adjusted gross income of less than $65,000 in order to qualify.
The Excelsior Scholarship Program offers up to $5,500 towards tuition for residents. To qualify, you must be enrolling in one of the SUNY or CUNY two-year or four-year schools.
High school students can earn free tuition in Oklahoma through the Oklahoma Promise Program. There is an income requirement for the family as well as academic and behavioral requirements.
This program provides last-dollar funding for resident high school graduates that have at least a 2.5 GPA. It is also available to GED recipients.
The Rhode Island Promise program is available to people under the age of 19 that graduate from high school with at least a 2.5 GPA. For people pursuing an associate degree at the Community College of Rhode Island, this program offers last-dollar tuition for full-time students.
This is a last-dollar funding program known as Build Dakota. It helps fund not only tuition, but also books, fees, and other expenses for students who are pursuing certificates or degrees in a field that is in high demand.
The Tennessee Promise Program helps students attend one of the technical colleges or community colleges in the state. This is a last-dollar funding program.
Salt Lake Community College offers last-dollar funding to qualified applicants. If you receive a Federal Pell Grant, you might be eligible.
The College Bound Scholarship program offers need-based grants. This money can go towards tuition, books, and some fees.
This last-dollar funding program requires meeting a number of criteria including passing drug screenings and maintaining a certain GPA. The West Virginia Invests Grant program helps fund the education of those pursuing associate degree programs and certain in-demand certificate programs.
Are You Eligible for Free College?
So, is community college free?
No, at least not by default. Even if you do receive money as a part of a community college funding program, there will likely still be expenses that you have to cover.
That being said, looking into “community colleges near me” isn’t a bad idea if you’re looking to further your education without going deeply into debt. Through one of these state programs, too, you can significantly reduce the cost of your education.
Are you looking for more essential resources to help you budget for college? If so, check out our library of articles about college tuition.