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Find Free Online Degree Programs & Tuition-Free Colleges in 2018

If you’re skeptical about the concept of free college, you’re not alone. While free tuition isn’t an option for most students, thousands of learners complete courses and earn degrees each year without spending a dime on tuition. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to fall into the “fully free tuition” category, this guide provides concrete and actionable tips for significantly cutting costs and avoiding student loan debt while also highlighting several schools, states and educational systems that offer free tuition.

Meet the Expert

Jason White Financial Aid Expert

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Separating Fact from Fiction: What is “Free College” and Who is it for?

What is “free college”?

Free college refers to programs that cover students’ tuition. Offering free college to the select group of students that need and qualify for it is a step towards acknowledging the inequity that lies in the ability of U.S. students to pay for a higher education. While most students pay to attend college, thousands of students qualify for free tuition every year. This doesn’t mean their education is without cost. With few exceptions, tuition waivers don’t cover fees, books, supplies and room and board.

Who may be able to get free tuition?

Members of the military

The five armed forces academies in the U.S. (Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, Military, and Naval) allow all individuals accepted into the military to attend school and have all tuition, fees, books, and room and board are fully paid for. In exchange for completing a degree with no debt, graduates must agree to serve at least five years of active duty after receiving their diplomas.

High-achieving, low-income students

Many of the Ivy League institutions (Harvard, Duke, Cornell, MIT, and Brown, to name a few) provide financial support programs for students hailing from families that make less than $60,000 per year. Students must work while in school and during holidays and contribute those earnings, but they may be able to graduate debt free.

Learners who work for their tuition

The federal government currently recognizes nine work-study colleges in America that don’t charge students tuition in exchange for work during the semester and on holiday breaks. Learners either work on campus or in the local community, usually for at least 10 hours per week, and contribute their earnings to the school. Students may still need to pay for books, fees, and room and board.

College employees

Many colleges throughout the nation – the University of Colorado being just one example – allow full-time employees, regardless of position, to receive free tuition while working at the school. Most specify a maximum number of credits that can be taken each semester. Employees may have to wait until paying learners register and then find classes that still have space.

Children of college employees

Under this scheme, some schools provide full tuition while others provide partial assistance. Some – as is the case at Duke University – provide tuition assistance for children of employees to attend any school in the country. Other schools maintain partnerships with a specific number of schools and allow employees’ dependents to attend one from that list.

Students with medical conditions.

As discussed by expert Jason White later in this guide, approximately two million first-time students qualify for medically-based tuition assistance each year but only a fraction uses it to their advantage. Students with illnesses such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, and allergies can find millions of dollars to help make tuition free – if they know where to look.

Learners of Native American heritage

Numerous states and many colleges now offer Native American tuition waivers to learners who can prove their heritage. These waivers typically cover all tuition costs but degree seekers are still responsible for books, fees, and room and board. Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado provides an example of what to look for.

Foster or adopted children

Tuition support for this population of learners may come from individual schools or state-level departments of education. Degree seekers at Arizona State University who were previously fostered can take advantage of the Arizona Foster Youth Program if they reside in the state and are 23 years of age or younger. If approved, students pay no tuition.

Employees of specific companies

This method of receiving free tuition tends to be more popular at the graduate level, but it’s worthwhile for undergraduate learners to do their own research. Some companies to research that pay full or part-tuition include Google, Proctor & Gamble, Starbucks, and Chevron.

Survivors of hardship

Recognizing the resiliency of learners who experienced hardship in one way or another but still want to go to college, numerous institutions, colleges, and states provide free tuition to help them achieve those goals. Michigan provides free tuition for college students who received 24 months of Medicaid coverage. Meanwhile, the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund ensures all children of those killed on September 11 don’t have to pay a cent for higher education.

Colleges with Free Tuition

Many colleges offer scholarships or work scheme programs making it possible for students to receive free tuition. The following list highlights some of the programs available throughout the country but is not exhaustive. Students should do additional research to find a program tailored to their interests and goals.

Pippa Passes, Kentucky

Located in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains, this Christian, four-year liberal arts college has provided degrees to students of all financial backgrounds for more than a century. Students living within the school’s service area pay $0 in out-of-pocket costs toward tuition thanks to a mix of gifts/bequests, financial aid grants, investment and auxiliary income, and student contributions. As one of only nine federally-recognized work-study colleges, full-time ALC learners work 160 hours per semester in on- or off-campus jobs. ALC is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Phoenix, Arizona

Arizona State University maintains five campuses surrounding Phoenix as well as four additional learning centers throughout the state. The school offers an undergraduate scheme known as the College Attainment Grant Program for first-time undergraduates who qualify as residents and plan to pursue studies on a full-time basis. Under the program, learners from low-income families who qualify for a Federal Pell Grant receive free tuition and fees for eight consecutive semesters – provided they maintain at least a 2.5 GPA. ASU received accreditation through the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges.

Havilland, Kansas

Barclay College is a private Christian institution in Kansas that offers four-year degrees and full scholarships to all learners residing on campus. Thanks to generous donations from supporters of the college, Barclay offers this to all students accepted to help them focus on their faith and prepare for meaningful lives of service without worrying over loan debt. The scholarship is worth $15,000 each semester and covers all tuition, fees, and boarding expenses associated with attending. This college is accredited by the Association for Biblical Higher Education.

Providence, Rhode Island

As an Ivy League institution, Brown University maintains an acceptance rate of nine percent and is highly competitive. Though the cost of tuition, fees, room and board, books, and other expenses total nearly $70,000 annually, the school provides scholarships that make a Brown education free for learners whose parents make less than $60,000 annually. In exchange for attending college with no costs, students must contribute earnings from summer jobs and take part in a work-study campus job.

San Francisco, California

Known as Free City, this program allows students with established California residency to complete one of the school’s many associate degrees without paying for tuition or fees. Individuals who want to take a couple classes rather than complete a full degree are also eligible to receive support. Students from low-income families or with little financial means may be able to receive additional support for other expenses related to their educations.

New York City, New York

Operating as one of the 24 CUNY campuses, Macaulay Honors College serves approximately 1,400 learners – all of who receive a full scholarship that covers all tuition (excludes fees), a $7,500 grant for international research or service learning opportunities, a new MacBook Pro laptop, and access to NYC arts and culture events via a Cultural Passport. To be eligible, learners must meet CUNY’s requirements of residency and undertake at least 30 hours of community service during their first three years of enrollment. CUNY – MHC is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Point Lookout, Missouri

With an endowment of more than $415 million, College of the Ozarks outside Springfield, MO provides the opportunity for full-time students to graduate debt free when using their school scholarship, federal and state grants, and the school’s work study program in tandem. No money is exchanged between the school and learner, but degree seekers must agree to work 15 hours per week while in school and commit to two 40-hour weeks during schools breaks each year. Learners enrolled on a part-time basis pay $410 per credit hour. This school is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Warwick, Rhode Island

Starting in the fall of 2017, Rhode Island Community College became free for all first-time college students under the Rhode Island Promise Scholarship. To qualify for a free two-year education, students must be residents of the state, enroll on a full-time basis, and plan to continue their studies in the state after graduating – or find a job. They must also maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher throughout the program to maintain good standing for the scholarship. CCRI is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

For nearly 100 years, Curtis Institute of Music has trained leading musicians and performers who have gone on to play at the Metropolitan Opera and receive Grammy Awards and Guggenheim Fellowships. Enrollment is kept low – approximately 165 students attend at any given time – but degrees are available at the bachelor’s and master’s levels. Though the acceptance rate sits at around four percent, every student accepted receives a full-tuition scholarship for their time at the school. CIM received accreditation via the National Association of Schools of Music and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Dyer, Nevada

Operating as a two-year liberal arts institution on an alfalfa farm and cattle ranch, Deep Springs College serves between 24 and 30 students at any given time. Built on the principals of academia, labor, and self-governance, DSC has an extremely competitive admissions process and typically admits between 6 to 15 percent of applicants. Once accepted, every student receives a scholarship of more than $50,000 each academic year to cover all the costs associated with gaining a degree. To attend, learners must agree to work at least 20 hours a week. Deep Springs is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Consistently hailed as one of the best institutions for higher education in the world, Harvard University maintains an acceptance rate of just five percent for undergraduate learners and costs more than $62,000 per academic year. As part of the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative, parents making less than $60,000 annually do not have to contribute any money for tuition, fees, books, or room and board. Families making between $65,000 and $150,000 contribute between zero and 10 percent of their income, depending on individual circumstances.

Louisiana

For many years now, the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students has provided fully-funded state scholarships to eligible learners hoping to attend a school from either the Louisiana Community and Technical College System or the Louisiana Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. To be eligible, degree seekers must have lived in Louisiana for at least one year prior to applying, have a high school GPA of 2.5 or higher, and scored at least within the average for the ACT/SAT.

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Another one of the world’s leading universities, MIT accepts eight out of every 100 applicants and maintains a student-to-faculty ratio of just three-to-one. Though the sticker price for an MIT education is exceptionally high, learners from families earning $90,000 or less annually receive free tuition via school scholarships and grants. Students are expected to work during the term, with many taking part in campus-based jobs. Nearly three out of every four students graduate without debt.

Oregon

Since 2016, the Oregon Promise scholarship has made it possible for recent high school graduates and GED holders from low-income and middle-class families to attend one of the numerous community colleges in the state and pay little or no money towards tuition. Eligible applicants must have lived in the state for at least 12 months before applying, have at least a 2.5 GPA or GED score of 145, and plan to attend college within six months of graduating high school.

Watertown, Mitchell, Sioux Falls, and Rapid City, South Dakota

South Dakota residents and non-residents alike can take advantage of the Build Dakota Scholarship at one of the state’s four technical institutes if they plan to enter a workforce program with high need and use their skills to continue improving the state after graduation. The scholarship covers books, tuition, and fees alongside other program expenses in exchange for three years of work upon graduation.

St. Louis, Missouri

Located in the heart of the bustling home of the Gateway Arch, St. Louis Christian College provides qualifying learners who plan to study on a full-time basis at the main campus with academic merit scholarships which cover the full cost of tuition. Applicants must have a high college entrance exam score or high school GPA to qualify and must maintain a high GPA throughout their time at the school. Students are responsible for books, fees, and room and board. SLCC is accredited by The Association for Biblical Higher Education.

New York

After testing this program for several years, New York State rolled out a new program in 2017 that makes it possible for nearly a million New York residents to attend any of the City of New York (CUNY) or State of New York (SUNY) colleges with no charges for tuition. Applicants must either have parents making less than $125,000 annually or be an adult making that amount or less. Students must enroll on a full-time basis and plan to work in the state after they graduate for however long they attended.

Tennessee

Beginning in 2018, both traditional and adult learners who are first-time college students (meaning they don’t already have an associate or bachelor’s degree) can take advantage of free tuition at all of the state’s community and technical colleges. To qualify, degree seekers must have resided in Tennessee for at least a year before applying, be enrolled on at least a part-time basis, and keep their GPA above 2.0.

Colorado Springs, Colorado

As the only military academy located west of the Mississippi River, the USNA offers a breathtaking campus alongside free tuition for learners prepared to devote five years of their lives to active service upon graduation. The school serves approximately 4,200 students at any given time but maintains an intimate student to faculty ratio of eight-to-one to ensure learners receive individualized training. In addition to air force training, students choose from 27 undergraduate majors.

New London, Connecticut

Although the U.S. Coast Guard Academy is the smallest of the five military academies, the school has been in existence since 1876 and accepts approximately 300 new cadets at the start of each academic year. Students choosing this path complete undergraduate studies for free in exchange for agreeing to serve in an active duty capacity for at least five years after graduation. Learners who want to attend graduate or flight school must agree to a longer term of service.

Kings Point, New York

With a focus on instilling in midshipmen (the official name of students at the school) the knowledge and skills associated with running a large ship, learners take courses in marine engineering, maritime law, customs, and navigation in addition to their other studies. To receive the full scholarship associated with this institution, graduates must serve at least eight years as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, Coast Guard Reserve, or other Reserve/National Guard unit – five of which must be in active duty.

West Point, New York

Often referred to as simply West Point, the USMA was originally envisaged by Thomas Jefferson and currently welcomes approximately 1,300 new cadets each year. Academics are divided into 13 departments, with every graduate receiving a Bachelor of Science degree regardless of individual major. Enrollees receive free tuition, fees, and room and board once they agree to serve in an active duty role as a second lieutenant for at least five years after graduation. Individuals who leave the Army after that time must serve three years as members of the inactive ready reserves.

Annapolis, Maryland

Since 1845, the U.S. Naval Academy has provided bachelor’s degrees to midshipmen – as students are known – who study their chosen field while also learning what it means to be an officer-in-training. Applicants must agree to at least five years of active duty service (along with an additional three years as an inactive reserve) in the Navy or the Marine Corps as an officer upon graduation to receive free tuition.

Glen Cove, New York

This niche institute of learning focuses on engineering offers a single undergraduate degree option: naval architecture and marine engineering. The student body is comprised of approximately 90 students and the school maintains a 1-in-3 acceptance ratio. In exchange for working in a maritime-focused job over the winter holidays, learners receive a full scholarship that covers all tuition. Students are responsible for paying the costs associated with books, room and board, and software. The Webb Institute receive accreditation via the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Media, Pennsylvania

Based in a suburb of Philadelphia, this unique, male-only vocational school welcomes approximately 100 new students each year into a Judeo-Christian environment that emphasizes service, diligence, integrity, and faith. Learners must come from families of financial need and be no more than 20 years old when they apply. Programs available range from carpentry and masonry to horticulture and power plant technology. All learners must live on campus, attend chapel, and follow a dress code to qualify for the full scholarships that cover tuition, fees, textbooks, and room and board. WCT is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology.

Free Online Degree Programs

In addition to traditional campus-based programs offering free tuition, more and more schools are providing the same deal for distance learners. As with brick-and-mortar institutions, prospective students should research the schools to ensure they’re properly accredited before enrolling.

Arizona State University

Phoenix, Arizona

Thanks to a generous partnership, hundreds of thousands of Starbucks employees can attend Arizona State University Online and receive free tuition. Known as the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, all full-time partners (what employers are called at Starbucks) can complete a full bachelor’s degree (or take a few classes) without paying a penny for tuition.

Cornell University

Ithaca, New York

A premier Ivy League institution that’s been in operation since the end of the Civil War, Cornell provides both campus-based and online classes – the latter of which are offered via the distance learning platform eCornell. Students coming from families with a total income of $60,000 or less receive free online tuition if they are admitted and meet other requirements.

Duke University

Durham, North Carolina

Recognized as one of the leading research and teaching institutions in the world, Duke University is committed to ensuring all learners – regardless of financial background – have the opportunity to gain a meaningful education. To accomplish this, the school offers a full-tuition scholarship to accepted students from families that make $60,000 or less annually. Additional scholarships are available to degree seekers who don’t qualify under the income plan but still need significant financial assistance.

Harvard University

Cambridge, Massachusetts

In addition to offering free tuition for students enrolled at the brick-and-mortar campus, Harvard University extends the same provisions to distance learners. Students enrolled online can take advantage of free courses – offered with or without credit – if their family makes less than $65,000 each year and they’re accepted into the program and meet other qualifications. Families making between $65,000 and $150,000 typically contribute between zero and 10 percent of the total costs.

University of the People

As the only tuition free, online-only college in America to enjoy full accreditation, California-based University of the People has educated more than 10,000 learners since its 2009 inception. The school currently offers associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in three areas: business administration, computer science, and health science. While all tuition and course materials are offered free of charge, students pay a $60 application fee and assessment fees of $100 per undergraduate and $200 per graduate course. UP is accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Other Ways to Get (Nearly) Free or Cheap College Tuition

Even if you can’t get completely free tuition, other ways exist to significantly lessen the financial burdens associated with attaining a postsecondary degree. According to CollegeBoard, the cost of getting a bachelor’s degree can range from $9,970 to $34,740 annually just for tuition, depending on whether a student attends a public or private school. Rather than going significantly into debt, creative learners find ways to gain an education without breaking the bank. Check out the tips below for ideas.

Take advantage of flat-rate tuition

Schools such as The University of Oklahoma allow students to pay a flat-rate for tuition, regardless of whether they take 12 or 20 credits per term. This allows learners to save money on tuition but also makes it possible for them to graduate more quickly and avoid additional room and board expenses while getting into the workforce sooner.

Earn credits via subscription

Operating as a membership-based program, Straighter Line partners with a number of accredited schools that allow learners to complete all requirements of their first two years at a fraction of the cost (the average cost for two years of full-time learning is under $1,300). Because all the participating schools are accredited, learners have no trouble transferring to a four-year institution.

Check out more ideas from ACO.

Learners looking for other tips on getting a degree cheaply can check out our Cheap Online Colleges guide as well as our Graduating Debt Free guide.

From the Expert

A premier authority on medical-based financial aid, Jason White is a member of the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD). Jason is an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, a former assistant attorney general for the state of Florida, and former prosecutor for the Florida Department of Business. He earned his law degree from Florida State University College of Law. Jason authored “The Medical Loophole: The Ultimate Guide to Medical-based Financial Aid.

In your experience, is there a specific population of students that may not know about free college options available to them?

I have experience working with prospective college students who have physical and mental disabilities. Not many students pursue medical-based financial aid despite numerous benefits. For one, this program will pay for tuition, fees, books, some school supplies, and a number of other items. Many students often overlook this program because they mistakenly believe their medical condition isn’t serious enough to qualify.

What types of medical conditions qualify for free tuition?

Many common medical conditions qualify for medical-based financial aid (asthma, allergies, ADHD, anxiety, depression, etc.), but not many students who suffer from these conditions would consider them to be “disabilities” in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, I typically refrain from using that word in my discussions with students because I find it has a certain stigma that can impact their decision to apply for medical-based financial aid.

Approximately 20 percent of students in the 18-24 age range suffer from one or more significant medical conditions that would potentially qualify for medical-based financial aid. This equates to approximately 2 million college students in the USA each year. However, out of those 2 million students, only about 100,000 ever finds out that their medical condition can potentially be a source of free money for college.

Where can students who might qualify for medically-based financial aid find more information?

My book, “T,” was published last year and teaches students how to apply for medical-based financial aid. This information is crucial to securing medical-based financial aid because filling out a FAFSA does not inform students of their potential eligibility. There is a separate application process to apply for medical-based financial aid and most students never find out about it.