Is Community College Free? Yes, in These 29 States.
Free community college is on the rise across the U.S., but the financial burden has shifted from the federal government to states.
- Americans largely support free community college, according to a recent BestColleges survey.
- While federal plans for free community college fell flat, most states subsidize two-year degrees.
- Nearly 30 states offer tuition-free associate degrees, but the fine print varies widely.
On the campaign trail, now-President Joe Biden promised to make community college free, pointing to its importance to America's middle class, as well as to Dr. Jill Biden's continuing career as a community college professor.
Initially included in the jumbo Build Back Better plan, free community college — among other big-ticket social spending provisions — struggled to gain congressional support. In early 2022, Jill Biden confirmed at the Community College National Legislative Summit that "Free community college is no longer a part of that package."
Though senators didn't sign off on free community college, the idea is popular with most Americans. According to a recent BestColleges survey, 69% of Americans favor free community college for either all or most first-time college students. Younger Americans are even more supportive.
In the absence of a national program, states are stepping forward to finance two years of post-high school education. But the states that offer free community college are subject to change, and who is eligible for what varies widely.
Eligibility considerations include residency, income, age, even field of study. All programs require applicants to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Most provide "last-dollar" grants, which pay remaining college fees after other aid is applied. Others are "first-dollar" grants, providing students with college funds upfront, regardless of what other funding they may be eligible to receive.
States Offering Free Community College
The AR Futures Grant, is the state's newest educational grant, providing last-dollar scholarships for two years of tuition and mandatory fees at community and technical colleges. Awarded on a first come, first serve basis, the grant requires recipients to take part in a mentor and community service program and work full time in Arkansas for three years after graduating.
You must have graduated from an Arkansas high school, or completed home schooling and a GED program in the state, or have lived in Arkansas for three years prior to applying (and hold a high school diploma or equivalent), to be eligible. Applicants must have not yet earned an associate degree.
Applicants also must enroll in a STEM program or another high-demand field of study for the state or region — a stipulation that includes over one thousand programs.
California Promise provides funding to the state's community colleges but allows individual schools to decide how to use the money. Institutions may use the funds to waive one year of fees and tuition per application cycle for first-time, full-time students, or to strengthen student support services — like childcare, transportation, and textbooks — to boost student outcomes.
California Promise is often confused with the California College Promise Grant, which waives community college enrollment fees ($46 per unit) for students with financial need.
California Promise is open to undocumented students (AB 540), students who have been victims of crimes such as trafficking and domestic violence (AB 1899), and residents of California. You need only live in the state for one year to gain residency. Applicants must either be low-income or Pell-eligible, first-generation college students, or hail from communities under-represented on campus.
Students must pledge to complete their associate degree within two years. They also need to enroll in eligible majors, which vary from school to school but are typically not restricted to STEM or "in-demand" fields.
Pledge to Advance CT foots the tuition bill for first-time, full-time students at community and technical colleges. With fewer eligibility restrictions and a more generous timeline than other free community college programs, PACT is open to Connecticut residents regardless of income level. The program covers up to three years of education.
You must have graduated from high school in Connecticut. Connecticut students who have been home schooled or hold a GED also qualify. The program is limited to first-time college students who enroll full time, which means taking at least 12 credit hours per semester.
Recipients may enroll in any program that leads to a certificate or associate or bachelor's degree. Once enrolled, grant recipients must remain in good academic standing.
The recently expanded Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) Scholarship is a last-dollar program covering up to six semesters (three years) of tuition toward an associate degree or workforce training program at Delaware Technical and Community College, or an Associate of Arts degree at the University of Delaware.
In-state high school graduates with a GPA of 2.5 or higher and Delaware residents aged 25 or older are eligible. Recipients must hold no felony convictions, stay continuously enrolled (attending both fall and spring semesters), earn no fewer than 24 credit hours each academic year, and maintain a 2.5 GPA.
Hawai'i Promise, a last-dollar scholarship program, covers tuition at the University of Hawai'i Community College for students with financial need. Unlike most free community college programs, which limit aid to tuition and mandatory fees, Hawai'i Promise covers all direct education costs for up to eight semesters: tuition, fees, books, supplies, and transportation.
The program was established to assist Native Hawaiians, low-income students, and those from underserved regions and populations to participate in post-secondary education and successfully join the workforce. There are a few eligibility stipulations.
You must demonstrate financial need by completing the FAFSA. You must also qualify for in-state tuition, which means residing in the state for a full calendar year before applying. Once enrolled, you must take 6 or more credits per semester and maintain satisfactory academic progress — progressing toward your degree in 150% of the time it should take and maintaining a 2.0 or higher GPA.
The Next Level Jobs Workforce Ready Grant covers up to two years of tuition and mandatory fees toward one of five approved programs at Ivy Tech Community College, Vincennes University, Indiana Institute of Technology, and other participating institutions.
Indiana residents with a high school diploma or equivalent who have not yet earned a college degree are eligible. Dependent students must enroll full-time; independent students must enroll at least half-time. All participants must maintain satisfactory academic progress.
The list of covered programs briefly expanded thanks to Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding, but are limited to: advanced manufacturing, building & construction, health sciences, information technology and business technology, and transportation and logistics. These fields were chosen based on market demand, wages, job placement, and program completion rates.
Future Ready Iowa Last-Dollar Scholarship covers the gap between federal and state financial aid and the cost of post-secondary certificates and associate degrees. Funding is available to eligible students for up to five full-time semesters or eight part-time semesters.
Future Ready Iowa aims to improve Iowa's economy and average education level, matching the state's talent pipeline to the workforce needs of the coming years. To this end, grant money may only be used toward approved programs, but the list is long and evolving.
Iowa residents who have recently graduated from an Iowa high school, GED programs, or home-school program are eligible, as are recent secondary-school graduates from other states who will attend school while employed in a registered apprenticeship program, as well as adult learners, 20 years old and up.
New high school graduates must enroll full-time — at least 12 credit hours per semester. Adult learners must enroll at least part-time — six credit hours per semester. Grant recipients are required to attend a college orientation session, work with an academic advisor, take part in any available career advising as determined by their program of study, remain continuously enrolled, and make satisfactory academic progress.
The last-dollar Kansas Promise Scholarship pays remaining tuition, fee, and textbook costs for students attending the state's community and technical colleges, Washburn Institute of Technology, and other private, non-profit colleges that offer eligible programs.
Eligible programs include IT, healthcare, advanced manufacturing and building, and early childhood education. Other programs may be deemed eligible if they lead to a "high wage, high demand, or critical need occupation." Grant recipients must agree to live and work in Kansas for two years after graduating.
Kansas residents who are recent high school graduates or individuals aged 21 and older who have resided in the state for the last three years may apply. Military service members stationed in Kansas and their dependent children are also eligible. Recipients may enroll part time or full time, but need to graduate within 30 months of being awarded the scholarship.
While the Kansas Promise is not limited to low-income students, those with greater financial need are prioritized. Top priority is given to applicants from families with annual household income beneath certain thresholds based on the number of family members (e.g., $100,000 or less for a family of two).
The last-dollar Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship is available to a broad swathe of Kentuckians, without any income or GPA restrictions. Funding is available for up to 60 credit hours. The program aims to assist state residents who have not yet earned an associate degree in receiving a diploma or certificate in a high-demand field of study. Qualifying programs include advanced manufacturing, business and IT, construction trades, healthcare and transportation and logistics.
The Work Ready program is available to Kentucky residents who are either enrolled in a Kentucky high school and interested in dual enrollment or who have graduated with a high school diploma or equivalent. (Dual-enrolled high schoolers are limited to two courses per academic year.)
Eligible individuals must enroll at eligible postsecondary institutions, which include several community and technical colleges, as well as four-year universities. Grant recipients must maintain satisfactory academic progress.
The Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) pays for tuition and fees at the state's public community and technical colleges, universities, proprietary and cosmetology schools, and other institutions that are part of the Louisiana Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Four types of grants are available: the TOPS Opportunity Award, the TOPS Performance Award, the TOPS Honors Award, and the TOPS Tech Award.
Students must enroll in college within a year of graduating high school to be eligible. There are also SAT/ACT score and incoming and continuing GPA requirements. Grant recipients must earn at least 24 credits per academic year to maintain eligibility. The merit-based TOPS award is limited to first-time, full-time college students with Louisiana residency.
Not all free community college plans are open-ended. A handful have been enacted through pandemic relief funding. This includes Maine's Free College Scholarship, available to high school graduates from the classes of 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023. The grant program will cover tuition and mandatory fees for up to two years at any of the state's seven community colleges.
High school graduation year is the extent of the Free College Scholarship's eligibility requirements. There's no income limit and no list of approved degree or certificate programs. Just accept any other financial aid you may have received through the FAFSA and enroll.
A last-dollar program, the Maryland Community College Promise Scholarship is available to students who aim for an apprenticeship program, certificate, licensure, certification, or Associate's degree at a community college in their county or region. The award is limited to $5,000 per recipient, enough to cover tuition costs at participating schools.
Beyond generous income limits ($100,000 if the applicant is single or resides in a single-parent household; $150,000 if the applicant is married or resides in a two-parent household), Maryland's free community college program stipulates that applicants go to school where they live.
Applicants must enroll in their nearest community college with on-campus facilities unless the program they are interested in is not offered at that school. In that case, they may attend whatever on-campus Maryland community college does offer that program.
Students must enroll for at least 12 credits per semester. Those who pursue licensure or certification must enroll in the next available courses offered at their school to fulfill the sequence.
Michigan Reconnect aims to increase the rate of young adults with work-ready college certificates and degrees in the state. The program covers last-dollar tuition and mandatory fee expenses for adult learners. Students who choose to attend a school where they aren't considered "in-district" will have to pay the difference between in-district and out-of-district tuition rates.
Eligible adults are those aged 25 and up who have a high school diploma or equivalent, no college degree, and who have lived in Michigan for at least a year.
What to study and where is an open proposition, but opting for a school away from where you live will make "free community college" less free. All 31 public community colleges and tribal colleges in the state accept the Reconnect scholarship, but the cost of attending varies for in-district and out-of-district students. Out-of-district award recipients are on the hook for the differential.
TheA+ Scholarship Program issues last-dollar funds to Missourans who have graduated from a high school that participates in the state's A+ Schools Program framework. This program aims to improve educational outcomes in the state by getting every student to graduation, ensuring they take challenging courses while in high school, and encouraging them to either go on to postsecondary education or enter a solid career.
A+ grant recipients may enroll at participating public and private community and technical colleges. Recipients must maintain state residency during their studies and work in Missouri for three years post-graduation. Leaving the state converts the grant into a loan that must be repaid with interest.
Eligible students must spend at least two years prior to high school graduation at an A+ designated high school, maintain a 95% attendance record and 2.5 GPA, and provide 50 hours of unpaid tutoring or mentoring.
Adult learners 25 or older are also eligible for the program if they have not earned a bachelor's degree and earn no more than $80,000 if filing jointly or $40,000 per year if filing as an individual.
The Nevada Promise, a scholarship and mentoring program, provides last-dollar scholarships for up to three years of tuition and other mandatory fees at any of the state's four community colleges.
The Nevada Promise is open to Nevada residents (those who have resided in the state for the last 12 months) who have earned a Nevada high school diploma or equivalent before the age of 20 but have not yet earned an associate or bachelor's degree. The program is also open to graduates of public high schools located in counties bordering Nevada.
Grant recipients must complete eight hours of community service and take part in the Nevada Promise Mandatory Training. Recipients must enroll in a minimum of 12 credits per semester in a certificate, associate, or bachelor's program, starting the academic year following high school graduation.
The New Jersey Community College Opportunity Grant awards last-dollar scholarships to low-income high school graduates. Usable at any of the state's 18 community colleges, New Jersey's free community college program covers up to four years of in-district tuition and fees, meaning that choosing to attend an out-of-district school could result in some residual costs.
Only New Jersey residents who have not received a college degree are eligible for the award. Eligibility also hinges on household income, with an upper limit significantly lower than that of other state programs: $0 to $65,000 a year.
Award recipients must enroll in at least six credits per academic year and make satisfactory academic progress as defined by the school they attend.
The New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, which passed into law in early 2022, has been touted as the most extensive program of its kind in the U.S. A first-dollar scholarship, New Mexico's latest educational award will foot 100% of the bill for up to 35,000 New Mexicans at the state's public colleges and universities.
The New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship is available to recent high school graduates and returning adult learners. Unlike many states' free college programs, the program makes no stipulations on immigration status. However, applicants must have established state residency.
Recipients may enroll full or part time, but need to take at least six credit hours per semester toward a training certificate, associate degree, or bachelor's degree.
The Empire State's Excelsior Scholarship covers up to four years of last-dollar tuition expenses at all CUNY and SUNY colleges, including community colleges and the statutory colleges at Cornell University and Alfred University. The funds, which max out at $5,500 per award cycle, may be used toward career training certificates and associate and bachelor's degrees.
Designed to encourage on-time degree completion, the Excelsior Scholarship is available to full-time students enrolled in at least 12 credits per term and averaging 30 credits per year. Eligibility requirements include state residency (12 continuous months prior to the start of the term), good standing on any existing student loans, and eligible family income: Students must come from households with a combined federal adjusted gross income of $125,000 or less.
After graduation, scholarship recipients must live and work in New York for the same number of years for which they received the award, or it will be converted into a loan.
The last-dollar Longleaf Commitment Grant Program directs federal COVID-19 relief funds toward making all of the state's 58 community colleges temporarily free for low-income students. Funding — up to $2,800 per year for two years — is available to income-eligible high school graduates of the classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022. The grant will expire at the conclusion of the Spring 2023 semester.
North Carolina high school graduates who received diplomas (or equivalents) in 2020, 2021, and 2022 are eligible. Their expected family contribution (EFC), as determined by completing the FAFSA, must be $15,000 or less.
Applicants must be first-time college students planning to enroll in the coming academic year. Receiving the full award amount requires enrolling full-time — at least six credit hours per semester. Part-time students can receive partial awards.
Oklahoma's Promise pays the full tuition amount for qualified students at public institutions or a portion of their tuition at private institutions. The award covers as many as five years of education and up to a bachelor's degree.
Eligibility for Oklahoma's free college program is more restricted than most. Available to Oklahoma residents (those who have resided in the state for the last year), the award is reserved for students from families earning less than $60,000 per year who enrolled in the program between grades 8-11.
Students must apply between the ages of 13 and 17. However, while many such programs insist grant recipients start college immediately after high school, Oklahoma's Promise allows for up to three gap years.
The Oregon Promise Grant is a "middle dollar" program that helps cover tuition costs at any Oregon community college for recent high school or GED test graduates. Awards range from $2,000 to over $4,000 for full-time students, minus a $50 co-pay per term. There's no time limit for receiving funds, but there is a credit limit: The award covers up to 90 college credits.
Oregon residents (12 months of living in-state) who are recent high school graduates with a cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher orGED test graduates who scored 145 on all tests are eligible. Students must apply during their senior year or immediately after completing the GED.Applicants may have attended college previously, but may have earned or attempted no more than 90 credits.
During a good year, the Oregon Promise makes no stipulations about income levels. But depending on state funding levels, the program's commissioners may choose to apply an EFClimit.
Rhode Island's Promise provides up to two years of tuition-free college to Rhode Islanders — either two years at the Community College of Rhode Island or the last two years at one of the state's four-year colleges. A last-dollar scholarship, Rhode Island's Promise covers any degree program.
Rhode Island's free college plan is open to all Rhode Island residents who enroll in college full time right out of high school. Fifteen credits per semester are "strongly encouraged," and 30 credits per academic year are required. Recipients need to maintain at least a 2.5 GPA.
Grant recipients must agree to live and work or continue their studies in Rhode Island after graduation. Unlike other state programs that make that stipulation, however, Rhode Island's plan does not penalize individuals who leave.
The new South Carolina Workforce Scholarship Program covers tuition and fees for up to 15,000 students who attend any of the state's 16 technical colleges. Intended to address the state's skilled labor shortage, the scholarship can go toward an associate degree or credential in a high-demand field such as manufacturing, health care, computer science and information technology, and construction.
The Workforce Scholarship is available to any South Carolina resident, whether recently graduated from high school or an adult. Recipients must maintain a 2.0 GPA and fulfill one of three other stipulations: complete 100 hours of community service at a non-profit or public-service organization, be employed while attending college, or take a financial literacy course at the technical college where enrolled.
The last-dollar Tennessee Promise Scholarship covers two years of tuition at any of the state's 13 community and 27 technical colleges. Award amount varies depending on the tuition remaining once other financial aid is applied. Unique to the Tennessee program, recipients are paired with mentors to assist them in navigating college processes.
Tennessee Promise is open to Tennessee residents who have received a high school diploma or equivalent before their 19th birthday. They must head to college full time the fall term following the completion of their secondary education. To maintain eligibility, recipients must continue to attend full time, maintain a 2.0 GPA, and perform eight hours of community service per term while enrolled.
The middle-dollar Virginia G3 Programs make the state's 23 community colleges free to students in the high-demand fields of IT, public safety, healthcare, skilled trades, construction and manufacturing, and early childhood education.
Beyond covering up to three years of tuition toward a certificate or associate degree in one of these fields, the program also provides grants of up to $900 per semester to full-time students who qualify for Pell Grants to put toward expenses like transportation and childcare.
G3 Programs are open to any Virginia resident with a high school diploma or GED who qualifies for in-state financial aid with family income up to 400% of the poverty line — approximately $100,000 for a family of four.
Grant recipients may choose to enroll full or part time; part-time students must enroll in a minimum of six credit hours per semester, or in an otherwise approved short-term program.
The need-based Washington College Grant allows a broad swath of Washingtonians to attend public colleges tuition-free or at a reduced price. Amounts vary based on income, family size, and educational costs. The maximum award amount covers full tuition costs at the state's participating public and private colleges and universities, including community and technical colleges, as well as career training programs.
Both recent high school graduates and adults from low- and middle-income backgrounds are eligible for the Washington College Grant. The household income limit tops out at 55% of the state's median family income.
West Virginia Invests provides last-dollar scholarships to the state's community and technical colleges and associate degree programs at four-year colleges. Recipients may receive funding covering tuition and mandatory fees for up to 90 attempted credits. The West Virginia Department of Commerce determines eligible programs based on workforce needs.
West Virginia Invests is open to state residents with U.S. citizenship. Individuals who move to West Virginia for education reasons are not considered residents. Those with an associate degree or higher are not eligible.
For every term a recipient receives funding, they must complete two hours of community service. Recipients must reside in the state for two years once they drop below part-time student status or make monthly payments to repay the grant with interest.
While it may not make community college completely free for all recipients, Hathaway Scholarship program offers merit- and need-based scholarships to Wyoming community colleges. The merit-based scholarship program is composed of four award tiers: Honors, Performance, Opportunity, and Provisional. Each tier comes with a different set of expectations for student academic achievement. Additional need-based funding is derived from FAFSA applications.
All Wyoming high school and home school graduates are eligible for the Hathaway Scholarship, so long as they maintain a minimum high school GPA of 2.5and score 19 or better on the ACT. GPA is not considered for home-schooled students. Home-schoolers must apply for the scholarship before their 21st birthday.
Maintaining eligibility through college means keeping your GPA above a certain threshold, depending on your scholarship's merit tier, staying continuously enrolled, and completing six credits per semester if enrolled part time and 12 credits per semester if enrolled full-time.
Provided through a partnership between the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation and the Community College of Vermont (CCV), the 802 Opportunity Grant covers last-dollar tuition expenses for Vermonters with financial need. Available to new and returning students, the grant also foots the school's $100 administrative fee.
Grant recipients are free to pursue any associate degree track — associate of arts (AA) or associate of science (AS) — offered by CCV.
While the scholarship makes no age stipulations, the program itself is about to age out. Vermont's Opportunity Grant is currently open to Vermont residents through the Spring 2023 semester. Applicants must demonstrate financial need via the FAFSA — students with a family income of $50,000 or less have the opportunity to have their tuition paid.
Both new and returning students are eligible, but students may not have yet earned a bachelor's degree.