5 Big Cities Where Residents Can Go to College for Free


College doesn’t need to drive you into debt, especially when you can go for free. In 2018, the average annual tuition and fees at two-year institutions grew to $3660 according to a study conducted by the College Board. Tuition and fee prices at public, four-year universities ranged from $8,600 at bachelor’s colleges to $11,120 at doctoral universities. For private nonprofit universities, annual tuition and fees ranged from $34,920 for undergraduates to $44,020 for doctoral students.

Even with the high price of education, getting a degree is becoming more important than ever if you want to be a competitive candidate in the labor force. Last year alone, nine out of ten new jobs went to those with a college degree indicating the growing significance of having a college education.

While most student’s pay less than the full price for tuition, fees, and room and board, some U.S. city officials and school leaders are going a step further to increase access to college by offering programs that guarantee free money for college to residents that meet certain requirements.

The benefits of these programs are multifold - 1) students reduce or eliminate the costs of attending college and 2) a city’s workforce becomes more educated and trained. The only catch - you have to be willing to bear the cold winters of Boston or the rain in Seattle since for each program enrollees have to go to high school or live within city limits.

Here are 5 U.S. cities offering free money for its residents to attend college:

San Francisco

In 2017, San Francisco became the first city to offer free college to all of its residents through it’s Free City College Program. All San Francisco residents are eligible for the program as long as they have lived in the city for a year and attend classes through City College of San Francisco. Unlike many similar programs, students don’t have to be enrolled full time or be a recent high school graduate to take advantage of Free City. To pay for the program, the city leverages property taxes to the tune of over $5 million dollars a year to offset the $46 per credit unit for students.

Photo by  KaLisa Veer  on  Unsplash

Photo by KaLisa Veer on Unsplash


In one of her first acts as the new mayor of Seattle, Jenny Durkan created the Seattle Promise Tuition Program in late 2017 which provides up to 90 credits of tuition for students who graduate from qualifying high schools within the city. Students in the program can attend up to two years of courses at the designated Seattle Colleges campuses while working towards a degree, credential, certificate or pre-apprenticeship program. While the main draw of the Seattle Promise is the full tuition coverage (after applying other aid), the program also provides assistance with choosing and registering for classes and mentorship through the first year of college.  

Looking for another way to pay for college? Have you considered a low-cost private loan? LendEDU, a website that helps people compare financial products, recently published a new Best Private Student Loans guide. The Editorial Team over at LendEDU used over 30 data points for 23 different student loan companies to find which were truly the "best." These recommendations and ratings are not influenced by compensation in any way and only present the lenders who were rated the highest on this page. With this tool, students and families can start to think about how to pay for college and explore additional financing options.

Go to LendEDU

San Jose

In 2017, the City of San Jose partnered with local colleges to launch the San Jose Promise which provides low-income San Jose high school graduates access to up to two years of free community college. In addition to funding for college, the program also offers qualifying students college readiness prep in high school as well as supporting pathways for youth in career and technical tracks. Approximately, 800-1000 students benefit from the San Jose Promise program each year.


Administered by the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development, Boston’s Tuition-Free Community College Plan pays for the costs of tuition and mandatory fees that are not covered by Pell grants. To qualify for the program, an applicant must be a Boston resident, graduate from a Boston high school as a qualifying student, and be Pell eligible, among other things. The plan covers up to three years in college as well as mandatory fees. All students enrolled in the program are paired with a Success Boston coach who helps them manage the transition to college.  

Photo by  VanveenJF  on  Unsplash

Photo by VanveenJF on Unsplash


The Detroit Promise provides any Detroit resident student who attends for at least two years and graduates from a high school in the city of Detroit with a tuition-free path to an associate degree, technical certificate, or bachelors degree at participating community colleges and four-year universities. There is no minimum GPA requirement for two-year funding. Two qualify for four-year funding, high school seniors must have a 3.0 GPA and at least a 21ACT or 1060 SAT test score.

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