In an effort to increase the number of students going to college, many US states are now offering scholarship programs. Wondering whether your state is one of them and if you are eligible? Here’s what you need to know.

Putting College Within Reach

For many students, the concept of going to college has been out of reach because of the cost. Free tuition programs across the country are changing the picture.

Emily Buckner, a 20-year-old student who benefited from the Tennessee Promise, which covers two years of tuition at community and technical colleges, told CNBC, “There was no way I could have gone to university after high school. My parents were laid off during the recession and it set us back a lot. When I finished high school, there was nothing.”

After earning her associate degree, Buckner enrolled in a four-year college, and she credits Tennessee Promise with paving the way.

Mike Krause, Tennessee Higher Education Commission executive director and founding director of Tennessee Promise, said, “There are students that may have counted themselves out and when they hear that you can go for free that provides a sense of momentum.”

Is Free College Tuition for You?

According to a recent US News & World report, 17 states offer tuition-free community college to high school grads. In addition to Tennessee, the list includes Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Montana, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Missouri, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, and Hawaii. The majority of these are 'last dollar' scholarships, meaning they cover what is left after other funding options have been exhausted. 

It should, though, be stated that each state has extensive eligibility requirements. For example, to take advantage of New York state’s Excelsior scholarship, you must be a resident of the state and plan to live and work there after graduating. Other programs may require students to maintain full-time status. Be sure to check into your state’s eligibility to determine if you qualify.

Still, the outlook is promising for many aspiring college students. Morley Winograd, president and CEO of the Campaign for Free College Tuition, told CNBC, “Five years from now, we would expect that a majority of the states in the country would have free college tuition, and that would be a tipping point.”