1. Arkansas: Arkadelphia Promise and El Dorado Promise. Both programs are available for students attending any two- or four-year institutions in the U.S. | Arkadelphia Promise covers up to $2,000 in tuition and mandatory fees after state and federal grants | El Dorado Promise, supported by Murphy Oil, pays a maximum amount equal to the highest annual resident tuition at an Arkansas public university
2. Arizona: Promise for the Future (for Pinal County). For Pinal County public high school graduates attending Central Arizona College | Covers remaining tuition after federal and state grants are applied | Must complete 20 hours or more of community service
3. California: Tuition-free programs are available for the Central Valley, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and Ventura County | Most are part of the Promise program, a national initiative to fund the first two years of college
4. Colorado: Denver Scholarship. For graduates of Denver public high schools attending any one of over 30 higher ed institutions, including technical, community and four-year colleges.
5. Florida: American Dream Scholarship. Available to Miami residents who have a cumulative high school 3.0 GPA | FSCJ Promise (Miami Dade County) for Pell Grant-eligible students with a GPA of 2.0 or greater.


6. Illinois: Peoria Promise (Peoria) and Rockford Promise (Rockford). Both programs are available for graduates of the corresponding local public high school | Peoria Promise pays tuition at Illinois Central College | Rockford Promise is a full-tuition scholarship program for students attending Rock Valley College or Rockford University
7. Maryland: Baltimore County College Promise. Along with partner Maryland Community County College Promise partner program, this program covers tuition and mandatory fees at the Community College of Baltimore County, after Pell Grants, state aid and other scholarships are applied
8. Massachusetts: Tuition-Free Community College Plan (Boston). For students attending Bunker Hill, MassBay and Roxbury community colleges who are eligible for Pell Grants
9. Michigan: Promise programs are available for residents of Detroit, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Pontiac and Saginaw who attend technical, community and four-year colleges and universities in Michigan | The list of institutions varies by program | Detroit Promise requires a 3.0 GPA and 1060 SAT score
10. New York: Say Yes Buffalo and Say Yes Syracuse. Like the Say Yes Syracuse program discussed above, the Say Yes Buffalo program is available to public and charter school graduates of that city’s high schools and legal refugees | Scholarships can be used at State University of New York and City University of New York schools as and grants at roughly 100 private institutions around the country that are part of the Say Yes HIgh Education Compact which includes CalTech, John Hopkins and the University of Chicago.


11. Texas: Rising Star Program (Dallas). Provides up to $5,500 for high school graduates of Dallas County public high schools attending any one of the seven accredited colleges of the Dallas County Community College District: Brookhaven, Cedar Valley, Eastfield, El Centro, Mountain View, North Lake and Richland

(Related: Top 8 Direct-Sold 529 Plans: Savingforcollege.com)

Families looking for affordable college options may want to consider free tuition programs available to the residents of many cities and communities across the country.

These programs tend to be less well-known than state-financed tuition-free programs, primarily cover tuition costs and not room and board, books or other expenses and are not necessarily limited to community college enrollments. 

The San Francisco Promise program, for example, is available for graduates of the San Francisco Unified School District who enroll in San Francisco State University.

Most of these tuition-free college programs require local residency for a certain period of time, often including graduation from a local public high school; minimum grade point averages (GPAs) at high school graduation; and a family income below a certain level, but there are exceptions.

The Say Yes to Education Syracuse, for example, available to graduate of public or charter high schools in the upstate New York city and legal refugees, offers scholarships to pay of tuition costs not covered by other grants and scholarships and opportunity grants for students who have already received the maximum Federal Pell Grant, but also “choice grants” to students whose annual family income exceeds $75,000. Moreover those grants can be used to pay for costs at one of about 100 private colleges that participates in the Say Yes Higher Education Compact.

Within the need-based scholarships there are two primary types: Last-dollar, which fills the funding gap between a student’s resources to pay tuition and the tuition cost itself; and first-dollar scholarships, which are often flat amounts and don’t take into account other financial aid. Most of these local-based scholarships fall under the last dollar category.

Savingforcollege.com, a website designed to educate families about financing college costs, lists 34 local tuition-free programs in 19 different states. You can see a sampling of 11 of these programs in the slide show above.

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