While there may be “no free lunch,” there is free tuition. I am not talking about taking out loans or applying for iffy scholarships. You can go to college and pay zero tuition. Nada. Zilch. And not only that, there is a fallback “plan B” – really cheap tuition.

I’ll tell you the details in this article, but first the burning question...does it really matter? You probably already know that a college education will cost you a pile, but here are some of the grim details:

- Average annual 4-year public college in-state tuition, $10,000; and average out-of-state, $26,000. Average annual 4-year private college tuition, $35,000.

- On average, annual medical school tuition (including fees and health insurance) ranges from $38,000 to $62,194

- Total current student loan debt in the United States is $1.53 trillion — more than all credit card debt and all auto loan debt combined. Wow!

- The average student loan debt amount for higher education is $37,172, and the average monthly payment is nearly $400 per month.

Easy now. Breathe into the paper bag. Maybe there is a better way for you, your family, and your friends...

Labor Unions

Here is a little-known fact: Many labor unions offer free college tuition as a standard member benefit. Not only that, but the unions also typically offer free college tuition for the member’s entire family. This is especially important here in Alaska because union membership, at 18.5 percent of all wage and salary workers, makes Alaska the fourth highest unionized workforce in the nation. There are 55,000 union members in Alaska. Some of the unions in Alaska that offer this benefit include:

- American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)

- Teamsters

- Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

- American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

- and several others

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Typically the free-tuition benefit applies to an online program at Eastern Gateway Community College in Ohio. This is a fully accredited, nonprofit public institution that is part of the University System of Ohio. Students can enroll in the online distance-learning program with no costs for tuition, fees, or digital textbooks. Credits earned can usually be transferred to a four-year college. The program offers seven associate degrees including business administration, early childhood education, accounting, paralegal, criminal justice, and two certificate programs. And remember, this benefit is also available to family members.

More good news. Beginning in 2020 a number of unions are expanding this benefit so that union members and their families can earn a bachelor’s degree from Central State University. The classes are completely online. Tuition will range from free to very low, no more than $4,000 a year. CSU is a respected, regionally accredited academic institution. It is governed by the Ohio Department of Higher Ed and is part of the University System of Ohio.

If you are in a labor union, ask your representative if free college tuition is a benefit.

Study Abroad

You can attend college for free at a large number of universities abroad. Why? I haven’t a clue. Maybe they just like students in Europe. In any case wouldn’t it be a spectacular experience to earn your free degree in Germany, Iceland, France, Norway, Finland, or Sweden? Why yes, it would! Here are some details...

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Germany has hundreds of universities that offer free tuition for international students seeking bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, doctoral degrees, and medical degrees. Basically, all imaginable subjects. Some of the better-known universities include: The Berlin School of Business and Innovation, Free University of Berlin, University of Heidelberg, Dortmund University, Frankfurt University, and Dresden Technical University, among many others.

While this is a fantastic deal, the Germans have included some extra hurdles for foreign applicants. Naturally you have to meet the entrance requirements for the university and specific program for which you are applying. But you also have two additional significant challenges. The first is you have to pass a German language proficiency exam, and you have to be pretty good at it. It’s fun. You’ll like it. I was a manual laborer in Germany in the 1970s so I speak with fuzzy memory and dubious authority on the matter.

Secondly, and this admittedly is a big one, you have to open a “German blocked account” in a German bank and deposit about $11,500 in it before you get to Germany. The idea is that you have to demonstrate you have enough money for daily living expenses while you are a student in Germany – rent, food, entertainment, etc. Once in Germany and successfully enrolled in a university, you can make 12 equal withdrawals from your account to pay regular living expenses. In other words, you get it all back over a 12-month period. Still, though, you have to come up with it in the first place. For more info about studying in Germany, check out: studying-in-germany.org

The requirements are similar in many other European universities. In France, for example, you need to speak French and show proof that you have enough cash for daily living expenses while a student. In Iceland you need to speak Icelandic and prove that you have enough cash for living expenses. In Norway, master’s degree programs are taught in English, so you have to prove you speak English. Moreover, some foreign universities, especially if you are getting an advanced degree, actually offer a paying university position to help you with living expenses.

Do the research to find the perfect fit for your no-tuition university education. For example, take a look at valuecolleges.com, and studyabroad365.com.

Bonus Opportunities

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Bonus opportunity #1: Earn a medical degree for free in Cuba! If accepted you are required to spend up to a year first learning Spanish, Cuban history and culture. (Learn how to rumba and mix the perfect rum and coke. How hard could that be?) Anyway, there are some other requirements which you can review at: medicc.org/ns/documents/How-to-Apply.pdf

Bonus opportunity #2: The Western Governors University (WGU) is not free, but it is low-cost, fully accredited, all online, and very different than other universities. It was created as a nonprofit university by a group of 19 western governors in 1997 to serve the far-flung populations of big western states...like Alaska.

All courses are competency-based, meaning as soon as you prove you know the material, you are done and you get course credit. As of 2019, tuition for WGU is $3,225 per six-month term for most undergraduate programs. Tuition is charged at a flat rate per six-month term, regardless of the number of courses taken or credits completed. Sound interesting? Check out wgu.edu.

Change your life. Get a free or low-cost education. Maybe learn a new language as part of the deal. Give it some thought. It could be you.

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