Personal Finance

See which cities offer tuition-free college programs

US News & World Report
Farran Powell
John Fedele | Getty Images

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced her plan in March for any Seattle public high school graduate to attend a local community college for free.

Durkan plans to expand the Seattle Promise initiative beyond the partially private-funded 13th Year Promise Scholarship, which covers a year of in-state tuition at three Seattle community colleges for eligible students who graduate from select Seattle high schools.

According to the city's proposed timeline, by 2019-2020 the Seattle Promise will provide two years of free college to all Seattle public high school graduates. This would shift the city's promise initiative to be supported by additional public funds if a city-education levy passes in November.

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The cost of college is an obstacle in pursuing higher education for many students – and some college promise initiatives, such as the Seattle Promise, are trying to remove barriers at the city level.

A range of tuition-free programs available at the city level are not only developed by city officials, but also by private foundations, local school districts and colleges. In fact, there are at least 19 college promise initiatives among the 50 most populated cities in the U.S.

Most college promises offer free tuition at community colleges, but not at four-year institutions. While several states, such as Tennessee and Rhode Island, offer these initiatives, there are city or county governments that develop partnerships with two-year colleges.

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Tulsa County, the county seat for Tulsa, Oklahoma, developed a promise-type program called Tulsa Achieves with Tulsa Community College more than 10 years ago. Under the program, eligible Tulsa high school graduates can attend TCC for free for up to 63 credits.

Many college promise initiatives offered at the local level are "last dollar" scholarships, which usually bridge the gap between the total amount of financial aid a student receives and the cost of attending college, taking into account tuition and fees as well as books.

Miami-Dade College's American Dream Scholarship, for instance, provides the in-state tuition portion and class fees after other grants and financial aid are applied. For qualifying Miami high school graduates, the scholarship covers up to 60 credits for an associate degree at Miami Dade College.

While the vast majority of local college promises are structured as last-dollar programs – usually limited to Pell Grant-eligible students – there are some promise initiatives that are universal.

The Long Beach College Promise, now in its tenth year, promises any Long Beach high school graduate a year of free tuition at Long Beach City College.

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Terri Carbaugh, a spokesperson for the Long Beach College Promise and California State University—Long Beach, says their initiative aligns K-12, community college and state college into a single system."It's universal and an initiative that's multilayered and very complex."

She adds: "If you're of higher income and not eligible for a fee waiver or are not eligible for financial aid, there's private money that will support you through grants and scholarships – that's the promise."

Other communities often look to the Long Beach College Promise as a case example when developing their own promise initiative, Carbaugh says. "We've worked with Fresno and Los Angeles and really all around the country."

Los Angeles launched its promise of one year of community college for free last year, and Fresno will offer its tuition-free initiative to residents in fall 2018 through the Central Valley Promise.

The following map shows 19 promise-type initiatives among the 50 most populated cities in the U.S.

San Diego Promise — San Diego, CA

The Long Beach College Promise — Long Beach, CA

Los Angeles College Promise — Los Angeles, CA

Central Valley Promise — Fresno, CA

San Jose Promise — San Jose, CA

Oakland Promise Scholarship — Oakland, CA

Free City — San Francisco, CA

13th Year Promise Scholarship — Seattle, WA

Wichita Promise — Wichita, KA

Tulsa Archives — Tulsa, OK

Rising Star Program — Dallas, TX

The Power of You — Minneapolis St. Paul, MN

Milwaukee Area Technical College — Milwaukee, WI

Louisville Rotary Promise — Louisville, Kentucky

Detroit Promise — Detroit, MI

American Dream Scholarship — Miami, FL

FSCJ Promise — Jacksonville, FL

The Last Dollar Scholarship — Philadelphia, PA

Tuition-Free Community College Program — Boston, MA