Several Cities Offer Free College Tuition Programs

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Brian O'Connell

By Brian O'Connell

January 4, 2019

Several U.S. cities and municipalities offer government-sponsored free tuition programs. These programs are either completely or partially free, and most have conditions and mandates that student recipients must follow, similar to the restrictions on state free college tuition programs.

Many of these free college tuition programs are called Promise Scholarships. A leading advocate for Promise Scholarships is Say Yes to Education.

(Note: The term “last dollar” means that all federal and state grants, scholarships and other gift aid is applied to tuition first, before the free tuition aid kicks in.)


  • Arkadelphia Promise (Arkadelphia). The Arkadelphia Promise is a last-dollar scholarship program, covering up to $2,000 in tuition and mandatory fees after federal and state grant funding is applied first. It may be used at any 2-year or 4-year U.S. college or university.
  • El Dorado Promise (El Dorado). The El Dorado Promise is available to graduates of El Dorado High School. Recipients must maintain a 2.0 grade point average and complete 12 credit hours per semester at any U.S. 2-year or 4-year public or private college in the United States. 


  • Promise for the Future (Pinal County). This program is a last dollar scholarship program that covers any remaining tuition after federal and state grants are applied. It is available to Pinal County high school graduates who have a 2.75 grade point average and participate in 20 or more hours of community service. Recipients must enroll at Central Arizona College.


  • Central Valley Promise (Fresno). This promise is good for one semester at Fresno City College. To qualify, you must be a high school graduate and have at least a 2.7 grade point average.
  • Free City (San Francisco). You must be a resident of San Francisco for one year to qualify, and be a California resident, in general, to qualify.
  • Long Beach College Promise (Long Beach). This program pays for one year at Long Beach City College. You need to be a Long Beach high school graduate to qualify.
  • Los Angeles College Promise (Los Angeles). The Los Angeles College Promise provides one year of free enrollment to all full-time students graduating from city-based public and charter high schools. A FAFSA must be filed for program approval.
  • San Diego Promise (San Diego). The San Diego Promise provides two years of tuition at City, Mesa and Miramar colleges for first-time, full-time students.
  • San Francisco Promise (San Francisco). The San Francisco Promise is available to all students in the San Francisco Unified School District who enroll in San Francisco State University.
  • San Jose Promise (San Jose). San Jose College Promise scholarships are focused on low-income, first-generation, and historically underrepresented students in the San Jose region. The program offers free two-year tuition at local community colleges.
  • Ventura College Promise (Ventura). The Ventura College Promise program is available only to Ventura County students who enroll at Ventura College. It covers enrollment, health and student center fees.


  • Denver Scholarship (Denver). The Denver Scholarship is available to graduates of Denver Public Schools and may be used at participating Colorado colleges. Recipients must enroll full-time in college. A 2.0 high school grade point average is required.


  • New Have Promise (New Haven). Recipients must have a 3.0 high school grade point average. They must also have missed less than 10% of school days and perform 40 hours of community service in the city of New Haven. A limited number of Passport to Promise scholarships are available to students with a 2.5 to 2.9 GPA. The UConn Commitment is an additional $5,000 available to Promise scholars who enroll in the University of Connecticut system.


  • American Dream Scholarship (Miami).To be eligible, students need to produce their high school transcript, showing the graduation date. They must also have a cumulative weighted high school grade point average of 3.0. This is a last dollar program, as well.
  • FSCJ Promise (MDC). Duval or Nassau County high school graduates must be Pell Grant-eligible and have a grade point average of 2.0 to qualify.


  • Peoria Promise (Peoria). Recipients must graduate from a Peoria High School and enroll at Illinois central College. It is a last dollar scholarship program.
  • Rockford Promise (Rockford). This program provides full-tuition scholarships to Rockford Public School graduates who enroll at Rock Valley College or Rockford University.


  • Wichita Promise (Wichita). Wichita Promise covers the cost of tuition and fees at Wichita State University Campus of Applied Sciences and Technology, on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s a last dollar deal, with tuition help covering only what the Pell Grant and Veteran’s Educational benefits do not cover.


  • Louisville Rotary Promise (Louisville). This program has multiple caveats, including a required grade point average of 2.5 or higher, a minimum 90% attendance record and no major disciplinary issues. Enrollment at Jefferson Community & Technical College immediately following high school is also mandated.


  • Baltimore County College Promise (Baltimore). This program, along with its Maryland Community County College Promise partner program, is a last dollar program. It covers tuition and mandatory fees, after applying any Pell Grants, state aid and scholarships. Books and supplies are paid for by the student.


  • Tuition-Free Community College Plan (Boston). You’ll need at least a grade point average of 2.0, and be accepted to Bunker Hill Community College, MassBay Community College or Roxbury Community College. Filing the FAFSA and Pell Grant eligibility is required, too.


  • Detroit Promise (Detroit). Detroit Promise is more demanding than most city-based tuition programs. It requires a 3.0 grade point average and students must have completed four-years at a local high school. A minimum score of 1060 on the SAT is also required.
  • Kalamazoo Promise (Kalamazoo). One of the first Promise programs, the Kalamazoo Promise is available to graduates of Kalamazoo public schools. It is a first-dollar scholarship program.
  • Lansing Promise (Lansing). The Lansing Promise is available to graduates of the Lansing School District. It is a last dollar scholarship program for students who enroll at Lansing Community College, Michigan State University or Oliviet College.
  • Pontiac Promise Zone (Pontiac). This program provides tuition assistance for Pontiac School District high school graduates who enroll at a Michigan college, university or trade school.
  • Saginaw Promise (Saginaw). The Saginaw Promise is available to high school graduates from the Saginaw Public School District. It is a last dollar scholarship program that covers tuition and mandatory fees at Michigan colleges, universities or trade schools.



  • The Power of You (Minneapolis – St. Paul). Power of You covers the cost of tuition and fees for two years at Saint Paul College through state and federal grants and private scholarships. Income eligibility is limited to local families with $75,000 or less in annual income.

New York

  • Say Yes Buffalo (Buffalo). This program is available to graduates of the Buffalo Public Schools to enroll at more than 100 2-year and 4-year colleges and universities. It provides a lot of additional support services to help the students succeed.
  • Say Yes to Education Syracuse (Syracuse). This program provides a last dollar scholarship covering college tuition to graduates of the Syracuse City School District. The scholarships may be used at colleges and universities that are members of the Say Yes Higher Education Compact.


  • Tulsa Achieves (Tulsa). Tulsa Achieves offers a good deal for local students – full tuition and fees are provided for every high school senior, public or private. Students must graduate with a 2.0 grade point average and commit to begin college the fall following their senior year in high school.


  • Last Dollar Scholarship (Philadelphia). Annual awards can be as high as $5,000 for qualified students, who must be a graduate of Philadelphia-area high schools.
  • Pittsburgh Promise (Pittsburgh). The Pittsburgh Promise is a last dollar scholarship, covering up to $5,000 per year after federal, state and institutional grants have been applied to tuition, fees, room and board, and books.


  • Rising Star Program (Dallas). This program offers up to $5,500 for Dallas public high school graduates.


  • 13th Year Promise Scholarship (Seattle). You need to be a Seattle public high school graduate to qualify. The program provides one-year of tuition at three Seattle-area community colleges.


A good place to start:

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