US states that offer free community college tuition: California, Maryland and more

SOURCE: Robyn Beck / AFP
Community colleges are known to be less expensive, more flexible and ideal for students interested in exploring their interests to enter a niche job market.

By U2B Staff 

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Student loans have increased over the years and the level of potential debt holds many people back from getting married, starting a family, or buying a house. A good education is still important, so what is the best way to go about getting one? You might find the answer at your local community college.

Spending the first two years of your academic career at a community college is a great way to reduce the costs of a college education and avoid a large sum of student debt. 

Unless you currently live in one of the several US states that offer free community college programmes, tuition is not something you have to be worried about. Many US states offer either first-dollar or last-dollar grants to domestic students. 


The difference? First-dollar scholarships provide tuition fee waivers to students regardless of additional funding or grants the student is eligible for. Comparatively, last-dollar grants cover the gap between the total aid provided to a student and the cost of college education. 

Here are some for the US states that are currently offering grants for prospective community college students:


California Promise is unlike most of the programs in this list, a first-dollar program, that provides tuition waivers to students, regardless of additional funding or grants the students are eligible for. 

The Los Angeles College Promise (LACP) is a partnership between the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD), Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), City of Los Angeles, LA Chamber of Commerce, UNITE LA and private philanthropy. Together they offer first-time and full-time students with a comprehensive strategy designed to enable them to complete a higher education degree and/or a workforce certificate. 


The Maryland Community College Scholarship offers students up to US$5,000 to cover the costs of a two-year programme in a vocational course. There is no age limit for recipients, just high school qualification and a cumulative GPA of at least 2.3.


Through the last-dollar Arkansas Future Grant, students can pursue a two-year programme in science, technology, engineering and math fields or a regional high demand area of study. 

Students who have graduated from an Arkansas public school or received a recognised high-school equivalency diploma, and have lived in the state for three consecutive years are eligible.


The Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) programme covers tuition for full-time students for two-year programmes at the University of Delaware for its Associate of Arts degree or any programme at Delaware Technical Community College.

SEED is available for Delaware students who have maintained a 2.5 cumulative grade point average (GPA) on a 4.0 scale, or a combined score of 1350 on the new Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or a composite American College Testing (ACT) score of at least 19.


The Hawaii Promise Scholarship is a last-dollar programme that covers the tuition fees of students who are enrolled in at least six credits at a University of Hawaii Community College. It covers tuition, fees, books, supplies, and transportation for eligible students. Around 1,500 students received the scholarship in 2017-18, receiving an average of US$1,200 each.

Residents of Hawaii who have submitted their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application can apply.


The 21st Century Scholars Programme is a unique scholarship that offers up to four years of tuition to the state’s residents with a requirement that they have to commit to the program in seventh or eighth grade. It also requires applicants to have good academic performance throughout high school, earning an overall high school GPA of 2.5 on a 4.0 scale, completing the Scholar Success Programme, and earning Indiana’s Core 40 Diploma.

An income threshold level also applies to be eligible for the program.



Students enrolled in a two-year technical programme in Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) can apply for the MnSCU Two-Year Occupational Grant Pilot Programme

The grant is available for up to 72-semester credits. Students must either hold a diploma from a Minnesota high school, have passed the GED exam from the state, or completed the Adult Basic Education (ABE) programme.


The A+ Scholarship programme provides grants to eligible students of the states who wish to attend a community college or vocational/technical school. Applicants must have attended an A+ high school for at least two years prior to graduation, with a GPA of 2.5 or higher on a 4.0 scale.

New York

The Excelsior Scholarship covers tuition up to US$5,500 for students attending the State University of New York (SUNY) or the City University of New York (CUNY) for a two-year or four-year undergraduate degree.