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20 tuition free colleges combatting student loan debt

  • 20 tuition-free colleges combatting the college debt crisis

    It's no secret that the college debt situation in America has reached crisis levels in recent years. In fact, in the past decade, in-state tuition at public universities has outpaced inflation by a hefty 3.1%, according to the College Board' Annual Survey of Colleges. The number marks an “average annual increase of $270 in 2018 dollars, compared with $170 per year between 1988–89 and 1998–99 and $250 per year between 1998-99 and 2008–09,” according to The College Board.

    The good news is that at private four-year universities, the growth rate of tuition declined from 2.9% in the late ‘80s and ‘90s to just 2.3% in the last two decades. Furthermore, even the public universities' figure is down some from 4.1% and 4.2% in previous decades. Still, that hasn't changed the fact that college debt figures are higher than ever.

    The latest 2019 figures, for example, show more than 44 million former students who collectively owe a total of $1.5 trillion, reported by Forbes based on data from the Institute for College Access and Success. The average student borrower is saddled with $37,172 in loans (reported by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York)—a staggering $20,000 increase from just 13 years ago. As of 2016, the average student debt per capita was $4,920, and student loan debt has surpassed both credit card debt and auto loans to become the second biggest consumer debt category in the nation.

    Facing these sobering statistics, a number of public and private institutions have been working to tackle the issue. Some are accomplishing this via work college programs where students work on campus or within the community in exchange for tuition assistance. There are currently seven members of the Work Colleges Consortium (WCC), each of which is federally recognized and overseen by the U.S. Department of Education.

    A number of states and cities are getting involved, too, offering grants and other assistance to their residents. New York, for example, recently rolled out the Excelsior Scholarship, which offers free tuition to certain students independent of academic achievement. Oregon, California, and New Jersey all have community college assistance programs and nearly 20 states in total offer some sort of free tuition initiative. Moreover, Ivy League schools and other prestigious universities are providing free tuition to the most academically advanced students in order to bolster the quality of their student bodies.

    To give you an idea of the current landscape, Stacker had gathered information on 20 colleges that offer some sort of free tuition to its students. Read on to see which ones you recognize.

    You may also like: Best college in every state

  • Stanford University - California

    Nearly all of the Ivy League colleges offer free tuition to the most gifted and accomplished students in an effort to get the brightest candidates through their doors—and Stanford is no exception. The elite California university hands out dozens of merit-based scholarships every year, ensuring they never have to turn away an accomplished student based on financial need. Funded through a combination of alumni donations and endowments, Stanford covers the bulk of the tuition for students unable to pay (although they may be asked to contribute a portion of summer income), and the parent contribution for any family with an annual income below $65,000 is waived completely.

  • Texas A&M University - Texas

    This public research university north of Houston, Texas, offers lower-income students something called the Aggie Assurance program. According to the initiative, students who are accepted into the university with family incomes of $60,000 or less are guaranteed enough assistance via scholarships and grants to be able to attend the college tuition-free. In 2016, the Texas A&M system endowment was 9.8 billion, making it one of the top 10 highest endowments in America, according to an annual U.S. News survey based on the fiscal year 2017.

  • Alice Lloyd College - Kentucky

    As a WCC university, this religious work college situated in Pippa Passes, Ky., is rooted in a philosophy it calls “Purpose Road,” which encourages students to have strong character and to live ethical lives. Even its street names espouse this philosophy, with roads called Conscience, Duty, Courage, and Consecration. For regular students, tuition is $7,000 a year, and those in need pay nothing. All students either work on campus or take part in outreach positions within the community. The college is aimed at Appalachian students specifically who come from low-income households.

  • New Jersey Community Colleges - New Jersey

    In January of this year, the state of New Jersey rolled out a $25 million program to fund free tuition for some eligible students at 13 of its community colleges. In May, authorities got the green light to extend the program to the remaining six institutions, making tuition free to a selection of low-income students at every community college in the state. To qualify for the so-called Community College Opportunity Grants, students must enroll for at least six credits, complete a federal and state financial aid application, and demonstrate academic progress.

  • Antioch College - Ohio

    Antioch College in Monroe County, Ohio, has long made strides to make its four-year liberal arts university affordable, if not completely free, to its students. Historically, it has offered its merit-based Horace Mann Fellowship to a selection of its top students, covering four consecutive years of full-time tuition (for a total value of about $121,000). Between 2011 and 2015, it offered the scholarship to every student that was accepted in an attempt to bolster enrollments numbers after a turbulent period. Last year, administrators handed out $2.2 million in scholarships and grants and the website notes the school's “commitment to affordability.”

  • College of the Ozarks - Missouri

    This conservative Christian college is a WCC non-tuition higher learning facility where students work on campus in exchange for their education. To be admitted, a prospective student typically needs to demonstrate financial need, although roughly 10% are admitted on other criteria. The faculty also looks for students who possess a personal commitment to making positive changes in the world upon graduation. The college has been featured on “Fox & Friends.”

  • City and State Universities of New York - New York

    In 2017, New York launched the Excelsior Scholarship, making it the first state in the nation to offer a no-tuition program that's not linked to academic achievement. The program, which is available to New York residents earning $125,000 or less, offers free two- or four-year education at any of the schools at the City University of New York or State University of New York. The scholarship is part of a broader state initiative to make college more accessible. Up to 940,000 middle-class families could potentially qualify, although only about 20,000 students received the scholarship during its first year, according to the Center for an Urban Future, prompting some criticism.


  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Massachusetts

    All incoming students whose families earn less than $90,000 a year can attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Institute (MIT) tuition-free. The school is one of just five “need-blind” colleges in the united States (the others being Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Amherst), meaning it doesn't weigh the student's ability to pay during the admissions process. According to the school's website, six out of every 10 students at MIT receive need-based aid.

  • Berea College - Kentucky

    Berea College in southern Kentucky is another WCC school. Through this program, Berea offers students a “Tuition Promise Scholarship” that's equivalent to about $100,000 over four years. Although the university identifies itself as a Christian college, it emphasizes religion that's inclusive and non-dogmatic, explaining: “Berea College strives to be a place where people with various Christian interpretations, different religious traditions, and no religious tradition work together in support of Berea's Great Commitments.” One out of three attendees is a student of color and 8% of the student body hails from outside of the U.S.

  • Oregon Community Colleges - Oregon

    In 2015, the Oregon Legislature approved the Oregon Promise grant, a program that assists recent high school and GED test graduates with tuition costs, sometimes covering 100%. The tuition aid can be applied to any of the western state's 17 community colleges for up to 90 credits. The amount of assistance ranges from $1,000 to $3,834 per year for full-time students, depending on how many credits the student is taking, how much they qualify for in Pell grants, and the cost of tuition at the school they're attending. The only portion the student pays for is a $50 co-pay per term.


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