University education is incredibly costly today. The annual sticker price of tuition and fees varies from around $3,440 at a two-year college to well over $32,000 at a private, four-year university, as reported by the College Board.
Due to the high expense of higher education, many recent graduates enter the workforce with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.
Meanwhile, students around the country are earning their degrees without paying a dollar in tuition fees. They’re taking advantage of free tuition at one of a small number of universities in the United States.
The competition for admission to these schools is understandably fierce, despite the fact that they charge no tuition. A lot of people are trying to get your business. To keep costs down, many of these institutions can only accept kids from certain locations who are living below the poverty line.
In addition, most of these institutions include a work-study program as a condition for offering free tuition. During your four years at college, you might have to put in some extra effort.
The completion of post-graduation service is a requirement for several programs. However, these institutions may be your key to a free education if you have what it takes to succeed there.
Colleges and Work
There are now eight schools in the United States that allow students to earn credit toward their tuition by performing work-study jobs. Three four-year universities and one two-year university make higher education completely free for its students.
Still, students may be able to earn credit toward the cost of room and board:
1. Alice Lloyd College
Located near Pippa Passes, Kentucky, Alice Lloyd College was established as a college for Appalachia. As such, it provides no-cost education to all students in the 108 counties it serves across Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Ten to twenty hours a week, or 160 hours a semester, of labor, are required in exchange. It’s up to them if they choose to work on campus or go out into the neighborhood. Work opportunities range from maintenance to library aid to lifeguarding.
The matriculation fee and room & board are the only costs for students. These costs average around $4,100 per academic year. Alice Lloyd offers need-based grants to help with these expenses.
About 600 undergraduates and 35 faculty members make up Alice Lloyd University. Also, it sets a very high bar. U.S. News & World Report claims that just 5 percent of applicants are granted admission and that only 21 percent of enrolled students ultimately get a degree.
In more than half of the courses offered here, there are fewer than 20 pupils. There is a strong emphasis on the liberal arts, teaching, and healthcare at this university, which is why they offer both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees.
Students are urged to remain in the area after completing their degrees in order to put their newfound expertise to good use.
2. Berea College
The Appalachians are also served by Berea College. It was the first Southern institution to admit students of different races and genders, and it was founded in Berea, Kentucky. Tuition Promise Scholarships, in addition to other forms of financial aid, cover the full cost of attendance at Berea for every student who is accepted.
Tuition Promise Scholarship recipients can expect to receive approximately $100,000 over the course of four years. As reported by U.S. News & World Report, the annual cost of living at Berea is $6,472. Every student also receives a campus job in addition to free tuition to assist with these expenditures.
Each student is required to spend ten to fifteen hours each week at one of the one hundred eligible occupations. Berea is a small Christian liberal arts institution with about 1,650 undergraduates and 165 full-time faculty members.
It provides Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science programs in about 30 different areas. The majority of its classes have fewer than 20 pupils.
Even though Berea is less picky than Alice Lloyd, it still maintains high criteria. Only 37% of those who apply are admitted, and only 45% of those who enroll really end up graduating. U.S. News & World Report ranks it at #60 among 239 liberal arts colleges nationwide.
3. College of the Ozarks
The College of the Ozarks at Point Lookout, Missouri has earned the nickname “Hard Work U.” It has the most stringent work requirements of any institution. Students are required to work two full 40-hour weeks during the school year outside of class time, in addition to the 15 hours per week they are required to labor during the school year.
For their community service hours, students can choose from a wide range of fields and occupations, such as nursing, hotel management, and dairy farming.
Full tuition at the College of the Ozarks is provided to all students at a cost of over $18,300 annually to the institution. The endowment and other donations and grants are used to fund this. Costing $6,800 each year, students can afford it by working an extra six weeks over the summer.
This university’s name suggests that it is intended to attract students from the Ozarks. Occasionally, it accepts students from outside of the 129 counties in Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Kansas where it has its primary focus.
Students often need to demonstrate both academic competence and financial necessity. Only ten percent of students who apply have their financial necessity waived by the school. The College of the Ozarks has rigorous admissions standards.
The acceptance rate is only 12%, yet among those who do get in, 63% actually complete the program. The small Christian university has about 1,440 students and 100 faculty members, with most classes having fewer than 20 students.
The college consistently receives good marks from reviewers thanks to its rigorous academic program. U.S. News ranks it as the fourth-best regional university in the Midwest, out of a total of 94. It ranks the university second in the nation for the quality of its undergraduate teaching and first for its total value.
4. Deep Springs College
Big Pine, California is home to the modest, male-only Deep Springs College. There are fewer than 30 students enrolled at this community college. There are often less than ten pupils in a class at Deep Spring.
Self-governance and hard work are valued just as much as academics in Deep Springs. As a thriving cow ranch and alfalfa farm, the college provides the majority of its own food.
Students are required to work on the farm or at another university facility for 20 hours each week. Student workers receive free tuition, lodging, and board in exchange for their time and effort.
At Deep Springs, you can take classes in the arts and sciences as well as in the more social and practical aspects of life. The program’s mission is to empower students to live a life of service to humanity. Every pupil has their own interpretation of what this means. Careers in law, medicine, education, science, and the media are popular choices for many grads.
Only about 15% of applicants per year are actually approved, out of an average of 150–180. Young men with a strong work ethic and a commitment to community service are sought after by the university.
Most Deep Springs students transfer to a four-year university after completing their initial two years of study. A small number of them have enrolled at prestigious universities like the Ivy League.
Academies of Service
There is a specific reason for the existence of the United States Military Academies: to train future military leaders. This is because the government pays for all of these institutions. However, after graduating, students must serve in the armed forces for a minimum of five years.
5. U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA)
Students interested in a career in the Air Force can attend the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado Springs. Approximately 4,400 kids, known as cadets, call this place home.
The full cost of attendance ($400,000 over four years) will be covered by a full scholarship offered to all students. In return, they will be expected to serve a combined active duty and reserve obligation of seven years following graduation.
When applying to USAFA, you’ll have to meet some rigorous requirements. To apply, most students need to have a senator or congressman nominate them, or the vice president of the United States.
Other types of students, such as the children of career military officers or recognized veterans, may be eligible for a small number of available slots. Admission to USAFA is competitive; only about 17% of applicants are accepted, and of those, 79% go on to graduate.
In terms of liberal arts colleges, U.S. News places the USAFA at #34 overall. Two-thirds of all courses have fewer than 20 pupils, making for a fantastic student-teacher ratio of 8 to 1. Students have their pick of more than 30 different majors, with engineering, business, and marketing being among the most common.
USAFA is also a very athletically oriented institution. Every semester, cadets are required to participate in a sport of some sort and pass a physical fitness test. Additionally, there are a wide variety of additional organizations and extracurricular activities available. There is a lot of discipline at USAFA and not a lot of downtime.
6. U.S. Coast Guard Academy (CGA)
The Coast Guard Academy (CGA) is located in New London, Connecticut, and prepares individuals for careers in that branch of the military. This military service is the oldest in the world, and while its primary focus has traditionally been on maritime safety, that is no longer the case.
Also, it aids in the regulation of maritime trade, the safeguarding of vital resources, and the defense of the country’s coastline. All 900 or more cadets at CGA are provided with no-cost education, lodging, and meals.
Students pay for this privilege by serving for a minimum of five years following graduation, typically on a ship. The students get ready for this by spending the summer after their third year working on a Coast Guard cutter ship.
Just 18% of those who apply are actually admitted. While congressional nominations are necessary for admission to the other service academies, this is not the case with CGA. Roughly 84% of students will complete their education.
U.S. News ranks CGA as the number two regional university in the North. Class sizes are typically under 20 pupils and the student-to-teacher ratio averages 8:1. Majors in the sciences, mathematics, and humanities are available at CGA, along with management and business.
Strategic Intelligence Studies is also represented there, and it’s where you’ll find offerings like “Intelligence and National Security Policy.”
Time is allocated each day for academics, athletics, and military training at CGA, just as it is at the other service academies. There are various sports teams that participate at the Division III level. Also common are musical ensembles like the Glee Club, Gospel Choir, and NiteCaps Jazz Band.
7. U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
U.S. Merchant Marine Academy grads have more options in the job market than those from any other military academy. Students are required to complete post-graduation service, but they can pick their area of focus.
They have the option of serving in the military for five years, working in the marine business for five years, or serving in the reserves for eight years.
Midshipmen, who attend the Merchant Marine Academy, are not required to pay fees. Fees for things like a laptop computer for use in class total around $2,200 each year. Individuals who demonstrate financial need are encouraged to apply for scholarships and other forms of financial assistance.
When compared to other service academies, the Merchant Marine Academy is widely regarded as the most difficult academically. Only 15% of candidates are accepted, yet of those 64% go on to get degrees.
Roughly 900 midshipmen and 70 faculty members call the academy home. U.S. News & World Report has placed it as the third best regional university in the North.
Midshipmen at the academy are required to take a year out from school to go on a Sea Year. They’ll be working on a commercial ship and visiting ports all around the world for the next 12 months.
As a result of their four years of study, individuals graduate with not just a Bachelor of Science but also a license to serve in the United States Coast Guard and a commission as an officer in the armed forces.
8. U.S. Military Academy (West Point)
The United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, offers an excellent education for free to those interested in a career in the armed forces. It is the oldest of the service academies and provides all students with free tuition, housing, and meals.
In addition, they get a monthly allowance to use any way they like. For this privilege, people must serve in the United States Army for a total of ten years five in the active force and five in the reserves.
To apply to West Point, students need to be nominated by a member of Congress; in 2015, just one in ten applicants were admitted. However, 80% of those who get accepted go on to graduate.
After completing the program, they are promoted to the rank of second lieutenant in the Army and are awarded a Bachelor of Science degree.
A total of about 4,350 students are enrolled at West Point, with a faculty-to-student ratio of about 7 to 1. More than 95% of the school’s classrooms include 20 pupils or fewer. With these exceptional qualifications, it achieves a ranking of #19 among liberal arts universities in U.S. News.
Sports are a huge part of life at West Point. It’s a member of the NCAA Division I, and all cadets are required to play a sport every semester.
The college’s largest sports adversary is the Naval Academy, especially in football. Students can also take part in several other activities, including the glee, gospel, ski, and sailing clubs.
9. U.S. Naval Academy
U.S. Naval Academy cadets in Annapolis, Maryland, get ready for a life at sea. It offers free tuition, lodging, and board to its more than 4,500 students, who are called midshipmen. They will join the U.S. Navy or Marine Corps after graduation and serve for five years on active duty, followed by three in the reserves.
According to data from 2015, Naval Academy has the most competitive admissions process of any of the military academies. In the same vein as West Point, it admits only nine percent of candidates and requires a nomination to apply (often from a member of Congress). 86% of those that enroll, however, remain in school until they’ve earned their degree.
The Naval Academy is ranked #12 by U.S. News & World Report among all liberal arts universities. Class sizes average under 20 pupils and the student-teacher ratio is 8:1. The program’s culmination is a Bachelor of Science degree and a commission as a Navy ensign or a Marine Corps second lieutenant.
The Naval Academy, like West Point, competes in Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association and requires all students to participate in intramural and varsity sports. There are 17 varsity sports for males, 10 for females, and 3 for both sexes. Club sports and other extracurricular activities, such as the debate team, are also available.
The few student populations that these free universities serve are highly specific. It’s true that some of them are exclusive to the brightest minds in a certain region.
Some are designed for general audiences, while others cater to students interested in a particular field. They offer free tuition in order to carry out their specific mission — to prepare students for a job they consider crucial to the globe.
10. Barclay College
Barclay College is a small Christian university for those seeking a career in ministry. It is located in the town of Haviland, Kansas. There are less than 200 full-time undergraduates, plus a handful of graduate and distance learning students.
International students who choose to reside on campus are eligible for the same $12,500 full-tuition scholarship that domestic students receive. Off-campus full-time students can obtain scholarships worth roughly one-third of this total.
However, the $4,090 in fees and $8,400 in room and board are not covered by these awards. The good news is that funding is available to assist with these costs.
Those with a calling to the ministry from all evangelical faith traditions are welcome to apply to Barclay. It provides instruction in a wide variety of ministry-related areas, including elementary education and pastoral ministry.
Students are required to perform 12 hours of “Christian service” per semester in addition to their academic work. In the church, they can lead a Bible study, sing in the choir, or serve in another capacity.
The Best Colleges reports that out of all the applicants at Barclay, 70% are accepted and 45% actually end up graduating. The ratio of students to teachers is 11 to 1. The college has “distractions associated with college life” removed so that students can focus on their studies and religious beliefs.
11. Curtis Institute of Music
Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music has a mission to educate and nurture talented young musicians. As long as they have musical talent, kids of any age can enroll.
If you want to study music at Curtis, you’ll need to audition, either in person or by recording if you’re a vocalist. If they make it, they’ll be instructed by some of the country’s best symphony musicians.
Tuition at Curtis University is $2,525, although all admitted students receive full funding for their education. On the other hand, they must still pay more than $14,700 a year for their own lodging and board. Students in need can apply for grants, loans, and work-study programs to help pay for these costs.
Performing is a key element of a Curtis education. The school’s 175 or so students put on more than 200 concerts per year in Philadelphia, and they also embark on tours around the world. Students who have graduated from Curtis can be heard performing with some of the world’s best orchestras, opera houses, and chamber music programs.
12. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY
The City University of New York (CUNY) system includes Macaulay Honors College, which is located in New York City. It accepts only the highest-achieving students, however, and has tighter standards than the average CUNY institution.
Students at Macaulay average an SAT score of over 1400. Macaulay also considers students’ academic performance, participation in extracurriculars, essays, references, and volunteer work.
In other words, Macaulay is not an independent institution. Its students attend one of the other eight CUNY colleges as undergraduates, where they take the bulk of their required courses.
Some of its seminars and events, however, are held at the Macaulay building on the west side of Manhattan. Students earn a dual degree from Macaulay Honors College and their home institution.
Macaulay University provides full-tuition scholarships to all New York residents. Nonetheless, students will be expected to cover the cost of living expenses on their home campus.
Help with these expenses may be obtained through several forms of financial aid. It is estimated that over 87% of Macaulay graduates would have incurred no or no student loan debt.
Macaulay’s many benefits include no cost for education. The Macaulay Opportunities Fund, for example, provides grants of up to $7,500 for international study, internships, and professional development.
Hundreds of New York City museums and cultural institutes provide free or discounted admission to students as part of the Cultural Passport program. Every new student also has access to a brand new Apple laptop, complete with tech assistance, and the option to purchase it for just $1 after two years.
Macaulay students get access to 475 academic programs throughout CUNY’s eight campuses. Macaulay students also have the opportunity to enroll in four seminar courses that focus on New York City’s arts, sciences, and communities.
In addition, during their four years at the university, each student is required to volunteer for a total of 30 hours.
13. Webb Institute
Webb Institute is a school in Glen Cove, New York that focuses solely on ship design. It’s the only university in the country that focuses solely on this field. Every one of Webb’s ninety or so students is pursuing a dual degree in naval architecture and maritime engineering. In addition to their usual coursework, participants participate in an annual winter labor internship.
Because of their extensive nautical education, Webb University grads are in high demand throughout the maritime sector. Upon graduation, every student at Webb is flooded with job offers.
Citizens and permanent residents of the United States pay nothing toward their education at Webb University. This does not, however, account for the additional $14,400 necessary to cover food and housing expenses, not to mention the additional costs associated with textbooks and laptop use.
Funding options such as grants, loans, and scholarships may be available to help students with these expenses.
According to U.S. News, among the 198 dedicated engineering degree programs in the United States, Webb University is ranked #69. It has an 8:1 student-to-professor ratio, an admittance rate of 36%, and a graduation rate in four years of 63%.
The Movement for Free College
There may be other opportunities to attend an accredited university without incurring any tuition fees. Several states have passed legislation to guarantee free tuition for the first two years of college.
A summary of their initiatives is provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures:
- Tennessee. The state of Tennessee established the Tennessee Promise Program in 2014 to cover the tuition costs of community colleges for recent high school graduates. Since no other scholarships or grants can pay the whole cost of attendance, the government will be footing the bill for the full amount of tuition and mandatory fees. Over 58,000 students applied to the program in the fall of 2014, which is roughly 90% of the state’s graduating class. The next year, Tennessee launched the Tennessee Reconnect Program to assist working adults in obtaining their associate’s degree in science.
- Oregon. It wasn’t until 2015 that Oregon launched its own state-run guarantee initiative called Oregon Promise. It’s very similar to the model in Tennessee, with a few key distinctions. Students must first keep a 2.5 GPA or higher to be considered. As a second benefit, the program ensures that all participants will get at least $1,000 to go toward their further education. If they have access to sufficient funding from other sources, they can use the state funds for things like textbooks rather than tuition. Third, part-time college attendance is acceptable to qualify for funding. All we ask is that they put at least $50 into their education each semester.
- Minnesota. This state established a trial program in 2016 to cover last-dollar costs for students seeking degrees in selected high-demand sectors. High school grads from the past two years with family incomes of less than $90,000 are eligible to apply. To qualify, individuals need to put in at least 30 hours of study per year and keep their GPA at 2.5 or higher. After its current term ends in 2018, the state will evaluate whether or not to extend the program.
- Kentucky. The Kentucky legislature established the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program in 2016. Beginning in 2017, this program will pay for the remaining expenditures of a two-year degree or certificate. Each semester, students must finish 15 or more credits while maintaining a 2.5 GPA. In addition, they will be required to have accrued an ever-increasing number of college credits beginning in 2020.
Bills to provide free or reduced-cost community college education to residents of Arizona, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, and Washington are now in the state’s legislative or executive review stages.
Moreover, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made news in January 2016 when he proposed a plan to fully finance all four years of public college in the state for students with family incomes below a specified threshold.
Free higher education is becoming a rallying cry for cities and institutions alike. There are presently a number of California community colleges that provide free tuition.
The government and private organizations both contribute to these initiatives. However, these grants only pay for a portion of your college expenses often one or two semesters rather than the full cost of attendance.
Some may think it’s absurd to use public funds to cover higher education costs. Spending public money on any school was unheard of in the early days of this republic. For parents to give their kids a proper education, they had to either pay for expensive private schools or find private tutors.
As a result, the vast majority of children simply did not attend school because their families could not afford it. This started to change in the middle of the 1800s when voters in Massachusetts authorized money to be spent on public schools and the hiring of qualified educators.
No doubt many people back then were against using tax money on schooling. On the other hand, the majority of voters thought that a well-educated populace was an important social good. So, public schools quickly became the standard all around the country.
Colleges that get government aid may become the norm in the future. Until then, however, some students may be able to keep college fees to a minimum by enrolling in one of the tuition-free colleges that we’ve highlighted here.
The colleges and universities discussed here are all excellent values, but they do not rank among Work + Money’s finest in their respective states.