North Carolina Announces Free Tuition and Fees Scholarship for State’s Community College Students

The Next NC Scholarship covers all tuition and fees for community college — and, in some cases, state university — students from families making under $80,000.
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Updated on December 4, 2023
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  • Eligible students automatically receive the scholarship if they fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
  • Community college students will receive at least $3,000 and public university students will receive at least $5,000 per year.
  • Duke University offers a separate tuition-free scholarship for students from families making $150,000 or less, with extra benefits for students from families making $65,000 or less.

North Carolina is giving students from most families free tuition and fees to any community college and covering at least half of the tuition and fees to any public state university.

North Carolina announced the Next NC Scholarship on Nov. 28 to provide students from families making $80,000 or less a year with free or discounted tuition and fees.

The Next NC Scholarship combines the federal Pell Grant with state financial aid, so eligible students automatically qualify for the scholarship and do not need to fill out any forms besides the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

If you're eligible, you get the scholarship.

"Affordability is the number one issue for students and families considering college, and this scholarship will help keep a life-changing education within reach," University of North Carolina (UNC) System President Peter Hans said in the press release.

"The Next NC Scholarship builds on North Carolina's long tradition of low college costs and strong financial aid. We're fortunate to live in a state with such consistent, bipartisan support for higher education."

Community college students will receive at least $3,000 per year, which is more than enough to cover tuition. Public university attendees will receive at least $5,000 per year, which pays for more than half, if not all, of tuition and fees at the state's public universities, according to the website.

Here are the state universities where the scholarship will pay for tuition in full:

Students can use their award for any expenses and are not confined to using the awarded money for tuition and fees. Part-time students are eligible to receive the scholarship with a partial award.

To qualify, students must:

  • Be a North Carolina resident eligible for in-state tuition
  • Be a high school graduate (or equivalent)
  • Be from a household that makes $80,000 or less a year
  • Be taking at least six credit hours per semester
  • Complete the FAFSA:
    • By the June 1, 2024, priority date for UNC System schools
    • By the Aug. 15, 2024, priority date for state community colleges

"Students often think they can't afford to go to college because financial aid is confusing," Kathy Hastings, director of outreach and communications at the North Carolina Education Assistance Authority, said to "By combining federal and state aid, the Next NC Scholarship makes it easier to see that money is available so college becomes possible."

In 2021, the median household income for North Carolinians was a little over $60,000, making most students eligible for the scholarship. But if you don't fall within the less-than-$80,000 threshold, there are still options for you to go to school tuition-free.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in admissions, basketball rivals Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) have been competing to make college more affordable.

Duke was the first to announce free tuition and fees this year for students from families in North and South Carolina making $150,000 or less a year, with even more benefits including housing, meals, and course materials assistance for students from families making $65,000 or less.

UNC-Chapel Hill followed suit a month later by announcing free tuition and fees for students from families making under $80,000 annually, similar to the new Next NC Scholarship. The university also offers the Carolina Covenant Scholarship, a debt-free scholarship for students whose individual or family income does not exceed 200% of federal poverty guidelines based on family size.