These 19 Cities Have Free College Tuition (But There’s a Catch)

The student loan debt crisis reached the $1.5 trillion mark, which means more graduates are being crushed by an unprecedented financial burden, Forbes reports.

One hopeful national trend is a city promise initiative, which offers free college, according to CNBC. Approximately 19 cities provide a pathway to earn discounts or free college, but there’s catch. Which cities offer one of these “promise school” initiatives, and what exactly is “the catch?” One city (page 16) has a huge catch.

1. Miami-Dade, Florida

Miami, Florida

There are certain test scores that qualify. | Aphotostory/iStock/Getty Images

Miami-Dade College accepts The American Dream Scholarship. Tuition assistance covers up to 60 credits after grant and scholarship money is applied,

The catch: Must have qualifying grades, test scores, and reside in Miami-Dade County. This scholarship is only for an associates degree.

Next: Only public high school students qualify.

2. Jacksonville, Florida

Ponte Vedra Beach in Jacksonville, Florida

The scholarship is only good for one school. | TraceRouda/iStock/Getty Images

FSCJ Promise covers tuition for up to four consecutive terms after scholarship and grant money is applied at Florida State College of Jacksonville.

The catch: Students must be a first-time college student who is eligible for a Pell Grant. Also, students must also be a Nassau or Duval County public high school graduate and log at least 30 hours of community service to be eligible.

Next: Only limited funds available for this scholarship.

3. Dallas, Texas

Dallas, Texas cityscape with blue sky

Qualified students must have attended a Dallas high school. | f11photo/iStock/Getty Images

The Rising Star program provides up to $5,500 for tuition and books for qualified students.

The catch: Must demonstrate financial need, complete the FAFSA, and graduate from a Dallas County public high school with at least a 2.5 GPA.

Next: This was one of the first programs.

4. Tulsa, Oklahoma

tulsa city skyline

It only applies to Tulsa Community College. | alex grichenko/iStock/Getty Images

Students who attended a high school in Tulsa can earn up to 63 credits or three years of free college.

The catch: Program only applies to students who enroll in Tulsa Community College for fall semester, immediately upon high school graduation.

Next: This program is designed for a very specific career path.

5. Wichita, Kansas

A warm, beautiful sunset along the Arkansas River in Wichita, Kansas

Scholarships are available first come, first served. | ricardoreitmeyer/iStock/Getty Images

Wichita Promise pays tuition and fees for high school graduates who attend Wichita State University Campus of Applied Sciences and Technology.

The catch: Scholarships available on a first-come, first-served basis. The free tuition may only be applied toward technical college certification. Eligible programs include aviation sheet metal mechanics or practical nursing for instance.

Next: You can earn a four-year degree, but have to do this first.

6. Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville, KY

Only specific high schools need apply. | toddtaulman/iStock/Getty Images

Louisville Rotary Promise pays tuition and fees for up to 60 credits at Jefferson Community and Technical College for students who qualify.

The catch: Only students who attended one of four select county public high schools are eligible. Those who complete their associates or technical degree may be eligible to receive up to $10,000 toward a bachelor degree at University of Louisville.

Next: The program is designed to assist students who only live here.

7. Detroit, Michigan

Detroit Skyline during the evening

Students who do well on the ACT or SAT can apply. | Steven_Kriemadis/iStock/Getty Images

Detroit Promise provides tuition assistance for students who want to attend either a two or four-year state university.

The catch: Must reside in the city of Detroit and attend a public high school for all four years to be eligible. Students must score at least a 1060 on the SAT or 21 on the ACT.

Next: Program is designed for very specific fields.

8. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin

It’s only good for the Milwaukee Area Technical College. | Tasos Katopodis/AFP/Getty Images

Tuition free assistance for students who meet financial aid criteria and maintained at least a 2.0 GPA in high school.

The catch: Program is designed for enrollment at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Students must enroll as a full-time student with 12 credits or more and graduate from a high school within the college’s district area.

Next: This program has strict financial need requirements.

9. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota

Minneapolis downtown skyline at sunset

The students must be in need of financial aid. | RudyBalasko/iStock/Getty Images Plus

The Power of You program offers tuition assistance of up to 72 credits (or two years) of higher learning for students who graduate from a high school in Minneapolis or St. Paul.

The catch: Tuition assistance is only covered for enrollment at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Also, students must demonstrate financial need with household incomes not exceeding $75,000 annually.

Next: This program offers plenty of options for high school grads.

10. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


The scholarship ranges. | iStock/Getty Images

The Last Dollar Scholarship provides tuition assistance for high school students who attended a participating Philadelphia area high school. Students can use scholarship money toward an accredited two or four-year university.

The catch: Must demonstrate financial need. Annual award amounts range from $200 up to $5,000 a year. Student must have at least $200 of unmet financial needs to qualify.

Next: Students can only attend one of these specific colleges.

11. Boston, Massachussets

Boston Skyline

Public school graduates who demonstrate need can qualify. | Kirkikis/iStock/Getty Images

Tuition free college for students who demonstrate a financial need, graduate from a Boston public high school, and have at least a 2.0 GPA.

The catch:  Bunker Hill Community College, Massachusetts Bay Community College, or Roxbury Community College are the only schools that qualify.

Next: This is a limited program.

12. Seattle, Washington

downtown Seattle,

Students get one free year free at one of three community colleges. | RomanKhomlyak/iStock/Getty Images

13th Year Promise Scholarship provides one year of free college tuition for students who graduate from a participating Seattle public high school.

The catch: Only three community colleges in Seattle qualify for scholarship money.

Next: This has a pretty strict resident requirement.

13. San Francisco, California

San Francisco

Students must reside in San Francisco for at least a year. | Heyengel/iStock/Getty Images

Free City program provides tuition free assistance for fall and spring semester at City College of San Francisco.

The catch: Program is available for students who resided in San Francisco for at least one year and are California residents. City College of San Francisco is a two-year community college.

Next: Students with higher GPAs earn more scholarship money.

14. Oakland, California

oakland california

Students with a GPA of 2.7 or higher can get a higher scholarship. | trekandshoot/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Oakland Promise Scholarship provides tuition assistance for both two and four-year universities.

The catch: Students must graduate from a participating Oakland public high school and demonstrate financial need. Although you only need a 2.0 GPA to qualify, those with a GPA of 2.7 or higher may qualify for a higher scholarship amount.

Next: This scholarship is awarded to a limited number of students.

15. San Jose, California

view of the historic Plaza de Cesar Chavez in San Jose, CA.

It’s only applicable for two community colleges. | GerardoBrucker/iStock/Getty Images

San Jose Promise awards free tuition to students who graduate from a San Jose high school.

The catch: The scholarship award is only good at two community colleges: San Jose City College or Evergreen Valley College.

Next: How free is this?

16. Fresno, California

Best Little City in the USA welcome sign on Van Ness Avenue

Certain activities must be completed. | gnagel/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Central Valley Promise program provides free college tuition for students who graduate from a San Joaquin Valley School District high school.

The catch: Students must complete Central Valley Promise activities and have at least a 2.7 GPA to qualify. Plus, free tuition is only available for one semester of community college.

Next: Free tuition is offered for only this type of school.

17. Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles

Free tuition only applies to community college. | Choness/iStock/Getty Images

Los Angeles College Promise provides free tuition assistance for students who graduate from a Los Angeles public or charter high school.

The catch: Free tuition is only available for a two-year community college within the Los Angeles Community College District.

Next: This was one of the original tuition free programs.

18. Long Beach, California

Long Beach

Students must attend Long Beach City College. | LUNAMARINA/iStock/Getty Images

The Long Beach College Promise is available to students who graduate from a Long Beach high school. Students must attend Long Beach City College starting the fall semester immediately after graduation.

The catch: Students receive free tuition for only one year of college at Long Beach City College, which is a community college.

Next: You don’t have to live in this city to qualify.

19. San Diego, California

San Diego, California,

Students must be in school full time. | Sean Pavone/iStock/Getty Images

San Diego Promise provides free tuition for California residents.

The catch: Tuition assistance only covers two-year community colleges within the San Diego Community College District. Also, students must also demonstrate financial need and enroll as a full time student.

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