These States Offer Tuition-Free College Programs

 Farran Powell

West Virginia is the latest state to consider offering free community college.

Lawmakers passed legislation on Jan. 30 that proposes the WV Invests Grant, a program that provides tuition-free college at the two-year level to in-state residents.

One catch: Graduates have to reside in state for two years after completing their degree or certification. But tuition-free programs in other states have similar requirements. The Arkansas Future Grant, which focuses on high-demand fields, requires graduates to remain in state two years after completing their qualifications, as an example.

Similar to other state programs, the proposed WV Invests Grant is a last-dollar program. This type of scholarship, often referred to as a promise program in most states, provides grant dollars to cover the remainder of tuition costs after Pell Grants and state aid are exhausted.

Over the last three years, several states have enacted these promise-type programs for tuition-free college. The movement gained momentum after President Barack Obama's State of the Union address in 2015.

In that speech, Obama said, “Tennessee, a state with Republican leadership, and Chicago, a city with Democratic leadership, are showing that free community college is possible. I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today."

At the time, the Tennessee Promise scholarship was one of two last-dollar programs at the state level. Since 2015, a number of states have enacted legislation for a promise program: New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Montana, Minnesota, Kentucky, Arkansas and Nevada.

Many of these programs bear similar hallmarks: a last-dollar grant program that primarily assists recent high school graduates at two-year colleges. New York with its Excelsior Scholarship program, however, is the only state program to offer last-dollar assistance to students at the four-year level.

To qualify for these tuition-free programs, in-state students must usually apply to the state's tuition-free scholarship program and submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

The following map below shows states that currently offer two years of tuition-free community college to high school graduates.

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Farran Powell
29 July, 2018
07 December, 2017