Is Community College Free? Yes If You Live in These States

Abigail Eun
Abigail Eun

Abigail Eun is a freelance writer and personal finance expert. Through diligent research and continuous learning, she has honed her knowledge in budgeting, saving, investing, and debt management. Abigail is passionate about helping people get their finances in order. She believes that everyone should have access to the information they need to make sound financial decisions. Her goal is to provide clear and concise information that is easy to understand.

See author page
Edited by
Emma Östlund
Emma Östlund

Emma Östlund works as a business operations analyst at Sparrow. Emma studied Psychology, Computer Science, and Markets & Management at Duke University. With a well-rounded background in business and analytics, Emma strives to deliver data-driven conclusions and insights.

See author page
Reviewed by
Camden Ford
Camden Ford

Camden leads Sparrow’s business operations – everything from product management to business analytics. After graduating Cum Laude from Duke University where he studied Civil Engineering, Camden worked as a Consultant for A.T. Kearney where he worked in their Strategic Operations practice. With a strong background in analytics, Camden strives to deliver data-driven conclusions and insights.

See author page
June 26, 2023

If you want to save money, consider going to community college and transferring to a four-year college after earning all of your General Education credits. Although you may be wondering, “is community college really free?”

Over 100 colleges in the United States offer transfer options for community college students, including all of the Ivy League schools and other private/public colleges. 

While the community college route is a lot cheaper than the traditional four-year route, this doesn’t necessarily mean community college is free.

The cost of community college depends on many factors, such as what state you plan to attend school in, your financial need, your field of study, as well as your involvement in any special programs.

Here’s what you need to know about attending community college. 

Is Community College Free?

Community college in general is not free, but almost 30 states in the United States offer free community college programs based on income, merit, geography, and specific program requirements. 

Source: CNBC

It’s important to note that you must meet all of the specified requirements laid out by your community college to qualify for having your tuition covered. For example, California offers the California College Promise Grant (CCPG), which waives tuition for community college and other fees if you meet the eligibility requirements. 

Even if the cost of tuition is covered, students may be expected to cover non-tuition costs such as room and board, school supplies, meal plans, and other fees. 

To find out what kind of community college programs your state or region offers, search up ‘[Your state/city] promise program community college.’ You can also look for private grants and scholarships that are specifically geared toward students who plan to attend community college and transfer. 

Where is Community College Free?

Community college can be free in the following 29 states: Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, South Carolina, North Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Michigan, and Hawaii. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Community College

Is Free College Actually Free?

Community college is not actually free. The coverage of community college tuition can depend on your state, income requirements, academic requirements such as high school grade point average (GPA), field of study, age, and more importantly, the community college you plan to attend.

Before anything, you’ll need to be accepted into the community college before considering aid. Make sure to apply to multiple community colleges that you’d like to attend and submit your application on time.

After you’re accepted, you can see if you qualify for financial aid. Every community college has different college promise programs, so be sure to look into your specific community college to see what financial aid options are available to you. 

Contact your financial aid advisor for more information. 

What are the Top Community Colleges?

According to Niche, the top five community colleges are:

  1. Ohio State University – Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster, Ohio
  2. Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wisconsin
  3. Texas State Technical College in Waco, Texas
  4. Lake Area Technical College in Watertown, South Dakota
  5. New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, New Mexico

Which State Has the Cheapest Community College?

According to the Education Corner, Texas has the cheapest community college, with the Wharton County Junior College having a net average cost of $3,969.

Can You Get a Bachelor’s Degree at a Community College?

Yes, you can get a bachelor’s degree at a community college, depending on which community college you go to. Currently, 24 states have community colleges with approved baccalaureate programs.

Traditionally, community colleges only offered associate’s degrees and certificates for students who completed two years of education and 60-semester credits of study. Bachelor’s degrees could only be earned at traditional four-year schools. Now, with workforce demands and calls for educational affordability and access, almost half of the states in the U.S. have allowed community colleges to award bachelor’s degrees.

For example, in Arizona, the Maricopa Community Colleges District offer bachelor’s degrees in Data Analytics and Programming at Mesa Community College, Information Technology at Estrella Mountain and Phoenix Community College, Public Safety Administration at Phoenix and Rio Salado Community College, and Behavior Sciences at South Mountain Community College. 

However, it’s important to note that most four-year institutions do not allow students to transfer to the institution if they already have a bachelor’s degree, so it’s important to look into the program requirements and keep this in mind before you pursue a bachelor’s degree at a community college.

If you don’t plan to transfer to a four-year institution, consider getting a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree at a community college. 

What is the Difference Between a Bachelor’s Degree and an Associate’s Degree?

Bachelor’s DegreeAssociate’s Degree
Four-year long programTwo-year long program
A step above an associate’s degree A step below a bachelor’s degree
More career opportunitiesFewer career opportunities
More focused area of studyGeneral focus area of study
More expensiveLess expensive

Do I Have to Submit my FAFSA If Attending Community College?

Yes, you must absolutely submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) even if you are attending community college. Even if the cost of community college won’t be necessarily “free,” submitting your FAFSA can get you financial aid that covers a significant portion of your tuition if you qualify. 

>> MORE: A guide to filling out the FAFSA application: common errors to avoid

Your FAFSA is necessary so that the federal government, state governments, and institutions can gauge your financial need and calculate your financial aid package. 

On top of submitting your FAFSA, it’s important to also look into your school’s outlined requirements for financial aid applications. For example, at the University of California Santa Barbara, transfer students who want to receive aid must fill out the scholarships section of the UC application, in addition to submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or the California Dream Act Application. 

>> MORE: What are the 4 different types of financial aid for college?

Closing Thoughts From the Nest

If you think that attending community college is the more suitable path for you, pursue it. Plenty of students go to community college and transfer to a four-year institution after earning their General Education credits, saving two years’ worth of tuition. 
Be sure to stay on top of the application processes for community colleges and check the qualifications for financial aid with each individual program. Even if community college is not necessarily “free,” you can still earn money to pay for college by applying for scholarships and grants.

Dive deeper in student loans