Tuition-free colleges sounds a bit made-up, I know. It’s the type of thing that would exist in a perfect world. A world where there are no student loans and college education is available to everyone at zero cost.
Though many schools can find financial support through donations, endowments, and fundraising, operating without tuition may not be sustainable for even the largest of schools.
In fact, more than 46 percent of public higher education revenue was sourced from tuition dollars last year, according to a study by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.
However, colleges with free tuition do exist. And they could offer the best of both worlds: a valuable education while adding to your savings.
And while some of the schools listed below are indeed free of tuition costs, attending them isn’t entirely a free ride. Some mandate students to work in exchange for no tuition. Others impose strict eligibility requirements.
Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of attending one of these specialized tuition-free colleges.
Tuition free colleges in the U.S.
These are just a handful of colleges that offer free tuition, usually in tandem with a rigorous work study program.
Alice Lloyd College, Pippa Passes, Ky.
Work study is usually optional at most schools. But at this small, four-year private college full-time students work a minimum of 10 hours per week (or 160 hours per semester) either on-campus or off-campus in exchange for zero tuition.
Alice Lloyd College is one of only seven work colleges in the U.S.
Barclay College, Haviland, Kan.
Living on campus has its benefits at Barclay College, a private Christian college. Resident students can pursue their degrees free of tuition.
Barclay College automatically offers a full-tuition scholarship worth $12,500 for all resident students to help underclassmen avoid going into debt.
However, students are still responsible for their own room and board, estimated at $8,400 per year.
Webb Institute, Glen Cove, N.Y.
This engineering school off of Long Island offers a full tuition scholarship to all enrolled full-time students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
This tuition scholarship is valued at $47,000 for the 2016-2017 academic year. However, undergraduates may still need to apply for some student loans to pay for room and board.
There is one catch, though. The school only offers one course of study: a double Bachelors of Science in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.
What are the benefits of attending tuition free colleges?
Here are a few pros to consider when deciding on attending a college free of tuition costs.
Student loan debt is all but eliminated.
With zero tuition, you all but avoid student loans and the debt load that comes with them.
The money you save can be used towards future life expenses, such as a home down payment or interest-bearing savings effort.
Keep in mind thought that attending a tuition-free (or tuition-reduced) school sometimes involves paying for your own room and board, along with other fees. This may require you to borrow some money.
Smaller class sizes.
The colleges we listed above all have a small student to professor ratio.
This gives students a more attentive, one-on-one educational experience compared to being one student among thousands at a large public university.
That says a lot, considering that the private school experience you’d receive comes at zero tuition.
They help build a stronger work ethic.
Since many tuition-free colleges mandate working in exchange for tuition, attending one may help develop a student’s sense of responsibility, leadership, and professionalism.
Many students who work during college also find they are better prepared for entering the workforce after graduating — compared to attending a public school where part-time work is optional.
And with the burden of student loans mostly off the mind of a student borrower, you can focus more on your academic and job performance, as well as cultivate real-world skills without encumbering debt.
Tuition-free colleges may benefit lower income demographics.
Many students who can’t afford to attend a popular public or private university, even with financial aid or scholarships, can benefit from a college that charges no tuition.
What are some drawbacks of tuition free colleges?
Attending a college with free tuition may have a price. Even though you’ll owe no money, it could cost you in other ways.
A narrow academic focus.
Unless you’re looking to major in theology, the arts, or a very specific line of study, your choice of college majors may be limited.
Very few tuition-free schools, apart from the ones we’ve mentioned here, offer a broad curriculum. It may not be worth majoring in a field you dislike just to save on tuition.
Inhibits how you manage your finances.
Having zero tuition could result in becoming less financially aware and responsible.
When students aren’t involved in managing their student loans or financing their college education, it could impact how they handle their finances after graduation
Exclusiveness may keep you excluded.
Many tuition-free colleges have strict eligibility guidelines. These could be only allowing students of a certain gender in. Or, applicants may perhaps need to demonstrate a high financial need.
This could lead to admission rates in the single digits for some tuition-free schools.
Are tuition free colleges worth it?
If you’re intent on attending a college that offers free tuition, you should still consider applying to a range of other major public or private universities. Even if they’re your second, third, or fourth choices.
Although some tuition-free colleges don’t participate in any kind of lending program, you should still go ahead and fill out your FAFSA during your senior year of high school.
It may help determine if you meet the financial requirements for admission into an exclusive, tuition-free school. Or, you’ll also be able to see what types of student loans you qualify for if you end up attending a state or public university.
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