Tuition-Free Colleges

Higher Education, Lower Prices

Tuition-Free Colleges
August 25, 2015

If your grades do not merit a full-ride academic scholarship to college and you do not have enough athletic skills to stop your grandmother from dunking on you, keep your chin up – you can still attend college tuition-free. There are a handful of colleges throughout the US that offer a tuition-free education.

What’s the catch? It’s not a catch, if you don’t mind working. You simply provide labor or some form of commitment in return for your tuition. In most circumstances, you will have to pay room and board, and a few other expenses – but the savings are significant.

These colleges are not easy to categorize aside from their tuition-free status, but they can be broken down into a few general types.

  • Military Academies – The commitment in return for an education is obvious here, but the education is excellent. The Naval Academy at Annapolis, the US Military Academy at West Point, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs – even the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY – are tuition-free in exchange for a service commitment after graduation.

    Not only do you get a free education from the service academies and the pride associated with serving your country, but after your service, you also will be entitled to various veterans’ benefits.

  • Religious-Based Institutions – While these colleges were all established with some religious emphasis, the curriculum is not based solely in religious studies. You can achieve a fine broad-based education – although you should not be surprised to find them ranked at the bottom of the Party School listings each year.

    College of the Ozarks, located in Point Lookout, Missouri, near the tourist mecca of Branson, is known nationwide as “Hard Work U” thanks to publicity from the Wall Street Journal in the 1970’s. Students are expected to work 15 hours each week along with two 40-hour work weeks at some point in the academic year.

    Alice Lloyd College offers free tuition to residents of 108 counties in the area of the Appalachians (West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio). Located in rural Pippa Passes, Kentucky, about 2.5 hours southeast of Lexington, Alice Lloyd requires students to work ten-to-twenty hours each week.
    Barclay College in Haviland, KS, offers a full-tuition scholarship to students living on-campus, but the scholarship does not include the cost of room, board and fees. Although it is a Quaker Bible school, the college admits all Christian students.

    Williamson College of the Trades is a male-only, Judeo-Christian college in Media, PA. Their full scholarship covers not only tuition, but also room, board and textbooks, with a choice of programs in carpentry, masonry, landscaping, horticulture, turf management, paint & coatings, power plant and machine tool technology.

  • Specialized Colleges – Deep Springs College is located on an alfalfa farm and cattle ranch in Big Pine, California, northeast of Fresno. This all-male, two-year college requires over twenty hours of work each week in addition to studies. Deep Springs has an excellent record of graduates continuing their education at highly prestigious universities.

    The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia is not only tuition-free; it is one of the world’s most highly regarded conservatories for the performing arts. Their alumni populate top orchestras throughout the nation. Leonard Bernstein is one of several famous graduates.

    The Macaulay Honors College is a liberal arts college at City University of New York (CUNY). They give full-tuition scholarships to all undergraduate students that meet CUNY residency requirements for in-state tuition.

    Webb Institute in Glen Cove, NY, a private college specializing in naval architecture and marine engineering, offers full-tuition scholarships to their undergraduate degree, which features both a sound theoretical education and practical industry experience.

  • Others – Berea College, a four-year liberal arts college located in Berea, Kentucky (about 45 minutes south of Lexington on I-75), accepts those with a demonstrated financial need tuition-free. Students are required to work at least ten hours per week.

Unfortunately, the economy has forced several fine universities in this field to partially abandon their tuition-free status. Cooper Union, founded in 1859 in Manhattan and offering degrees in architecture, art, and engineering, is now offering a half-tuition scholarship for undergraduates enrolling for the first time, while those who first enrolled before autumn 2014 are still given a full tuition scholarship. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, MA, has also switched to a 50% tuition scholarship program.

If you are still looking for a tuition-free — but not labor-free — education, consider these fine colleges and other tuition-free institutions to see if they meet your needs. Alternatively, you can learn to block shots like a 7-footer or dunk like Michael Jordan.

Photo © Moore

  Conversation   |   37 Comments

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Erin | 08.25.15 @ 17:08
Pretty limited choices depending on what you want to major in. It would be great if more colleges were actually affordable (not necessarily tuition-free).
Britt | 08.25.15 @ 17:08
I think if a student has a decent GPA coming out of high school and can maintain good grades through college, that tuition-fee colleges could be beneficial.
Victor | 08.25.15 @ 17:30
College now a days are not affordable at all, it will be good if an initiative was taken, like in other developed countries that the tuition is free .
Elaine | 08.25.15 @ 17:33
I agree with Erin, pretty limited choices. I know that my hubby went to a baptist college but because he wasn't "baptist" any more, even though his parents still where; it was not beneficial to him.
Alec | 08.25.15 @ 17:37
I didn't know these kinds of colleges existed. I like the idea of students putting back in to their college through work but it sounds limited and extremely exhausting. There should be more colleges and programs like this available though since most students who can't take out loans work full or part time to cover expenses anyway.
Chrisitna | 08.25.15 @ 17:54
Wish I would have known about this before my son was forced to drop out of school due to lack of funds. Something needs to be done to bring the US up to speed with the rest of the world with regard to lower cost/free higher education
Zanna | 08.25.15 @ 18:12
When they've already determined a career path and major, the choices seem limited. It's a viable option though, for some students. I'd also be interested to see more information about European universities that allow non-citizens to enroll for little or no cost.
Christina | 08.25.15 @ 18:22
I wish there were more places like this. Even if the student GPA is high but lacks a few points should still be considered with more help with college they work hard for their grades, and would continue to do so thru college..
Kamie | 08.25.15 @ 18:24
The simplicity and ease of mind that students can have while trying to become something is great with these colleges, as a little contribution and some elbow grease is a lot less stressful than having to worry about being able to continue onto the next semester.
Bobbie | 08.25.15 @ 18:26
My daughter did two years of community college while living at home, and it was all paid for with Financial Aid. I think colleges are overpriced, but at the same time trying to go to school, pay rent and other expenses is easily avoidable if students just stayed home longer.
Daniel | 08.25.15 @ 18:36
Schools these days are getting more and more expensive, options like these can be a real benefit for those fresh out of high school and hopefully those later in life wishing to get back to school
Sara | 08.25.15 @ 18:49
To be honest college is not always affordable for everyone. Though in my opinion if schools would focus on their students and academics and less on sports we would be doing better.
Sarah | 08.25.15 @ 19:00
A college education may not be the ticket if these are all there is as options. Sometimes, you just gotta roll with the punches and start working at a job and hope the career comes from it.
Nancy | 08.25.15 @ 19:08
While this is a very limited list, it's nice to see that there are still some options. I'm just curious how difficult these are to be accepted to.
irene | 08.25.15 @ 19:13
Interesting, I had never heard of Tuition-Free Colleges before.
Chelsey | 08.25.15 @ 19:15
It is crazy how much tuition costs. Young people today in my opinion really need to evaluate what they want to go to college for and how much it will cost them, and see if being in that field will really be beneficial. Are there enough jobs that i can get after college so I can pay for this education. Sometimes people spend thousands on school then dont' even work in that field. I love the schools that allow kids to work in exchange for their tuition. Perfect balance.
Apryl | 08.25.15 @ 19:18
Interesting article! I wish the world would see the overall benefit of educating everyone first versus lining their own pockets.
Joni | 08.25.15 @ 19:40
Ive also found out that some Ivy League school offer free tutition. Its all grades and income based. I have a senior and have looked into them.
Crystal | 08.25.15 @ 20:32
College is SO expensive no matter what. But these tips are great!
trish | 08.25.15 @ 20:57
I will be interested to see how all of this information changes when it is time for my kids to go to college. Hoping college will be more affordable by then!!!
Donnie | 08.25.15 @ 21:22
Limited college choice is a concern
Rindy | 08.25.15 @ 22:00
I had no idea these options for college were available. Great article and information.
Jackie | 08.25.15 @ 22:15
Although the choices aren't ideal for everyone it's great for those people able to take advantage of them. I don't feel working a few hours each week is unreasonable in exchange for a free college education.
Heather | 08.25.15 @ 22:25
Depending on what you want to major in, this could be a good alternative if you cannot afford paying for college yourself.
Ron | 08.25.15 @ 22:58
If these are the free options, all kids are quite better off becoming electricians, carpenters, and plumbers. Seriously. No, really!
Andrea | 08.26.15 @ 00:09
Limited but nice to know that they are out there.
Steffanie | 08.26.15 @ 00:34
Would be great to see better tuition rates
Wanda Langley | 08.26.15 @ 00:56
I think that it is great that kids can go to college tuition free. There are kids wanting to better themselves but can't afford to pay. Having them work while attending these schools is a great idea.
Beverly | 08.26.15 @ 01:25
It would be nice if colleges were tuition free, but it really isn't practical. We should really be focusing on making them affordable, not free. People tend to not appreciate those things they haven't "put skin in the game " for.
Leah | 08.26.15 @ 02:25
It's good info. I'll store it away for when my little one goes to college. Maybe by then there will be a broader range of free tuition colleges
Angie | 08.26.15 @ 02:27
Interesting article - I didn't realize that these options existed. This list is somewhat limited, but I'm assuming that there are possibly others out there that did not make this list?
gracie | 08.26.15 @ 02:53
Certainly worth looking at if they are in areas where one would be looking to further their education. It's a shame that it is not more widely available.
Rychana | 08.26.15 @ 03:26
It would also be great to hear about how to go to college for free as a working adult.
Crystal | 08.26.15 @ 03:30
I didn't even know these existed. It could help a limited number of people.
Vaughn | 08.26.15 @ 04:41
Very limiting choices. Will not benefit most kids attending college.
James | 09.01.15 @ 19:26
Add to the list Walther Theological Seminary. While it is aimed at training Lutheran pastors at a Master's level, it is still a viable option for those who plan on serving distressed churches that cannot pay well.
Dave Bradley
Investment Manager (Financial Advisor) in North Charleston, SC | 03.18.16 @ 22:50
Let's invert this. what is the value of an education? The price is just the $$ you pay. The value is what pays you back all those $$ with interest. Perhaps, some better questions to ask are: 1) What do you want your education to do for you? 2) Which resources are best suited to achieve #1? Leverage those resources, use a laser focus to get where you demand to be, and go for it. Keep in mind the most expensive school is not necessarily the best. Nor is the cheapest one. Read some books, engage others in areas that interest you, check out the competition, and use a multidisciplinary approach to make your decision. Make your decision while upholding the value of what is in your best interest. A great resource I found was: They offer many free programs in many different fields. The best part for me is the student, staff, instructor interaction. You decide how much or how little to put into the course. Afterwards, you pay accordingly It's not what you make, It's what you keep that determines your lifestyle.
$commenter.renderDisplayableName() | 12.02.20 @ 17:06