Tuition-Free Colleges

Financial Aid_Mortar BoardTuition-free colleges? Is that insane or even possible. Well, a quality college education doesn’t have to be insanely expensive.  With some planning and a diligent college search you can find at least twenty tuition-free colleges that may rescue your family from years of debt.   And while scholarships are fine, we’re not talking about that.  We’re talking 100% tuition-free, leave-your-checkbook-at-home colleges.

Since 1978 the cost of college has risen by more than 1,225% compared to inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) which has ‘only’ risen by 279% (source:  While the cost of a college education has risen four times as fast as inflation, it has even outpaced the other exorbitant family expense: health care.  According to the Wall Street Journal, college tuition has even grown twice as fast as that other runaway expense in the past decade: medical care.  At least we’ve been seeing medical expense inflation slow.  Not so with college tuition, yet.

And college costs continue to skyrocket at more than 4% each year, higher than general inflation.  It’s a depressing thought that a family with a toddler may be looking at spending far more to educate one child than the cost of their first house.  And for some of us with three toddlers (me included), this can be more than a depressing thought.

How can families try to cope with this expense?  If you’re open-minded and plan ahead, you can find one of these many tuition-free colleges may fit the bill without the high price tag.

Free:  The New Price of a College Degree in America

How does free sound to you?  It sounds pretty darn good to me.  If you were free from the financial worries of trying to pay for college, then you could fund your retirement, pay down other debt, and – if you’re a graduating college student – you’d be in a better position to launch into your own life and take a seat at the adult table.

In a previous post on tuition-free college options, I outlined some options.  You have the option to join the trend toward online education using Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs.  Using technology these programs are revolutionizing distance education in initiatives such as Ed-X (  For a more complete list of courses and programs, you can visit (

Traditionally, students have had options of getting free college tuition by getting accepted to a military service academy or joining the military or National Guard.  More recently, there have been options for individuals working in non-profits or in education or as a first-responder to get student loan debt relief.

But what I’m talking about here are schools that offer a quality education for free – absolutely nothing.

These outliers can be very selective and in return some require that a student work on a ranch or help build container ships.

And some schools offer tuition-free college educations or other financial assistance to families that have incomes below certain targets.  And there are several Ivy League and private schools that have implemented a ‘no loans’ policy which means that they provide grants instead of loans to fill any gap.  One such option includes Davidson College, a highly selective independent liberal arts college with just 1,900 students north of Charlotte, NC.

Tuition-Free Colleges

Here is a partial list of schools that offer this unique opportunity.

  • Alice Lloyd College, a Christian-centered liberal arts college with just 600 students highly ranked by US News & World Report, requires students to work on campus or in the community in exchange for free tuition.
  • Antioch College, a private liberal arts college in Ohio, has a required co-op program for all students.  The tuition free package is worth at least $121,000.
  • Barclay College located in Kansas offers a Bible-centered education on a campus of about 250 students and nearly a 50% acceptance rate for applicants.
  • Berea College located in Kentucky is a private liberal arts college with about 1,500 undergraduate students and requires all students to work at least 10 hours per week in campus-approved jobs.
  • College of the Ozarks is a private, Christian liberal arts school in Missouri with about 1,500 students ranked #10 by US News & World Report for Midwest colleges that also requires students to work on campus.
  • Curtis Institute of Music located in Philadelphia is focused on music performance and boasts a highly selective process and a stringent selection process.
  • Deep Springs College offers an alternate education program for a two-year degree that prepares students for successful transfer to schools like Harvard, Princeton and Yale.
  • Macaulay Honors College at City University of New York (CUNY) is a liberal arts college that requires community service in exchange for free tuition.
  • Webb Institute in New York in known for its engineering programs devoted to ship-building and design.
  • Williamson College of the Trades (formerly the Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades) is the only men’s only trade school in the US that provides 100% full scholarships to cover all textbooks, tuition and room and board.

Free Tuition Colleges Based on Family Income

There are a number of colleges which offer family’s that have limited income or assets free tuition.

These include selective schools such as:

  • Cornell University
  • Duke University
  • Harvard University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Princeton University
  • Stanford University
  • Texas A&M University
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Yale University

Almost all the colleges on these two lists are highly selective.  Each has a different learning environment that may not be suited for all students.  This is why it’s important to integrate into your college search process not only a college visit but also the paying for college question and an assessment that helps match up a student’s abilities, motivations and learning style with the right school.