Tips to Find a Tuition Free College Education

Tuition-free colleges? Is that insane or even possible? A quality college education doesn’t have to be insanely expensive. Parents and students should not be bankrupting themselves now or jeopardizing their futures by going into an insane amount of debt.

With some planning and a diligent college search, you can find at least 20 tuition-free colleges that may rescue your family from years of paying back student loans. And while scholarships are fine, we’re not talking about that. We’re talking 100% tuition-free, leave your checkbook at home colleges. (For more, see: A Roth IRA or 529 Plan for a Grandchild’s College?)

Rising Costs of Higher Education
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%, according to 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. At least we’ve been seeing medical expense inflation slow. Not so with college tuition, yet.

There may be a lot of reasons for college costs to rise so much. Campuses have certainly added lots of new buildings and taken on debt to upgrade facilities. Concrete block dorms have been replaced by sleek apartment suites. Simple gymnasiums have been upgraded to facilities that rival many Olympic training centers. Simple student lounges with a few couches have been given a total makeover to include bistros, baristas and bowling alleys. But one of the biggest expenses on many campuses has been the number of non-teaching faculty, managers and support personnel.

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 families 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.

And even though neither Bernie Sanders nor Hillary Clinton will be occupying the White House, there are still ways to make the dream of free college come true for some. You have some options 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.

Some private schools have implemented a “no loans” policy which means that they provide grants instead of loans to fill any gap between a family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and the advertised cost of school. While not free, this does significantly reduce the cost to a family. One such option includes Davidson College, a highly selective independent liberal arts college with just 1,900 students north of Charlotte, North Carolina.

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.

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 colleges that have implemented programs to remove economic barriers. At Harvard University, if your family’s adjusted gross income (AGI) is at or below $65,000 per year, parents will pay nothing. For more information, check out Harvard’s Financial Aid Initiative.

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 U.S. 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: A private, Christian liberal arts school in Missouri with about 1,500 students ranked 10 by U.S. News & World Report for Midwest colleges that also require students to work on campus.
Curtis Institute of Music: Located in Philadelphia, is focused on music performance and boasts a highly selective application process.
Deep Springs College: Offers an alternate education program for a two-year degree that prepares students for successful transfer to schools like Harvard University, Princeton University and Yale University.
Macaulay Honors College at City University of New York (CUNY): A liberal arts college that requires community service in exchange for free tuition.
Webb Institute: Located in New York, 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 U.S. that provides 100% full scholarships to cover all textbooks, tuition and room and board.
Free Tuition Colleges Based on Family Income
There are also a number of colleges which offer free tuition for families that have limited income or assets. 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 your college search process should go beyond a college visit. Parents and students really need to consider the question of paying for college and add an assessment that helps match up a student’s abilities, motivations and learning style with the right school. A more motivated student who is in the right learning environment will be less inclined to drop out, change majors or transfer, which will save you and your student a ton of money in the end if that tuition doesn’t turn out to be free.