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Scott Allen
8 Tuition-Free Colleges
by Scott Allen

During difficult economic times, the cost of higher education leaves many students wondering if they can afford to go to college. For those who want to avoid being saddled with huge loans, the U.S. government offers one of the best deals around: Enroll at one of the five service academies tuition-free and receive free room and board. (And you thought the Grand Slam promotion at Denny’s was cool.) But if military service isn’t for you, here are eight other schools that offer tuition-free educations:

1. College of the Ozarks

ozarks.jpgSeveral schools share the “Linebacker U” and “Quarterback U” monikers in reference to the NFL talent that their college football programs produce, but the only “Hard Work U” is located in Point Lookout, Missouri. In 1973, a Wall Street Journal reporter bestowed that title on the College of the Ozarks, where students pay no tuition and work at least 15 hours a week at a campus work station. Jobs are taken seriously at the school of 1,400; students are graded on their work performance in addition to their academics.

History: In 1906, Presbyterian missionary James Forsythe helped open the School of the Ozarks to provide a Christian high school education to children in the Ozarks region, which spans parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The school added a two-year junior college 50 years later and completed its transition to a four-year college program in 1965. The school was renamed College of the Ozarks in 1990 and has established itself as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the Midwest.

Notable: College of the Ozarks was No. 4 on the Princeton Review’s list of the top 10 Stone-Cold Sober schools in 2008.

Famous Alum: Actress and model April Scott, who played Daisy Duke in the straight-to-DVD prequel of Dukes of HazzardDukes of Hazzard: The Beginning. Scott has also appeared in Entourage, as a briefcase-toting model on Deal or No Deal, and on various magazine covers.

How to Spend the Money Saved on Tuition: Silver Dollar City, an amusement park in nearby Branson, Mo., harkens back to simpler times with its 1880s theme. In addition to thrills, roller coasters at the park offer scenic views of the Ozarks.

2. Deep Springs College

dsfarm.jpgDeep Springs is a two-year, all-male liberal arts college located on a cattle ranch and alfalfa farm in the Inyo-White Mountains of California’s High Desert. To get an idea of just how isolated the school is, consider the explanation for its policy forbidding smoking in any of the school’s buildings or near hay bales: “We’re 45 minutes from the nearest emergency services, so a fire could be disastrous.” Every student admitted – 10 to 15 per year – receives free tuition, room, and board, and works at least 20 hours a week on the ranch. The manual labor ranges from washing dishes to milking cows. Most students complete their degrees at prestigious four-year schools after leaving Deep Springs.

History: Deep Springs was founded by Lucien Lucius Nunn, a pioneer in electrical engineering who helped design the Ontario Power Plant at Niagara Falls. While working for the Telluride Power Company, which provided power to gold mines, Nunn invited young men to work for him in exchange for an education. The work-study program became known as the Telluride Institute in 1905. Nunn was driven out of the company in 1912 by a powerful stockholder who believed Nunn’s unconventional means of attracting workers was detrimental to the business. Nunn decided to start a completely new educational endeavor at Deep Springs, which admitted its first class of 20 in 1917.

Notable: Academics, labor, and self-governance are the three pillars of the Deep Springs experience. Students have a say in what subjects to study, what professors to hire, and even what applicants to admit.

Famous Alum: William T. Vollmann, a novelist and journalist with a propensity for writing about dangerous firsthand experiences, including a trip into Afghanistan with the Mujahideen in 1982. Vollmann has written more than 20 books, including Europe Central, which won the 2005 National Book Award for Fiction.

How to Spend the Money Saved on Tuition: Given that students are generally prohibited from leaving the ranch during the semester, online shopping via the somewhat reliable Internet connection is one of the only viable options.

3. UC-Irvine School of Law, Class of ’12

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In an effort to attract the best and brightest students for its inaugural class, the UC Irvine School of Law is offering a free ride to all 60 students admitted this fall. Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law scholar, told reporters, “Our goal is to be a top-20 law school from the first time we are ranked.” By early February, the number of applicants at California’s first new public law school in 40 years had topped 1,000. The school will rely on grants and donations to cover the estimated $6 million it will cost to put each of the students in the first class through the program.

History: There is some precedent for a professional school offering free tuition to its inaugural class. In 2008, the Central Florida College of Medicine received nearly 3,000 applicants after offering the same deal to each member of its inaugural class.

Notable: Chemerinsky, an adamant defender of the separation of church and state, as well as abortion rights, was hired, fired amid political pressure from conservatives one week later, and then rehired as Irvine’s law school dean in 2007.

Famous Alum: You? It’s not too late to apply.

How to Spend the Money Saved on Tuition: In-N-Out burgers. Lots and lots of In-N-Out burgers.

4. Berea College

berea_college.jpgThanks to a large endowment, every student admitted to Berea College in Kentucky receives a full-tuition scholarship valued at more than $90,000. Students are required to work at least 10 hours a week in one of more than 140 departments, and while room, board, and books are not covered, the work-study program enables some of the 1,500 students to lighten their financial load even more. Berea offers degrees in 28 fields.

History: Berea was founded in 1855 by Rev. John Fee – an ironic name for the founder of a tuition-free college if there ever was one – as the first interracial and coed college in the South. Classes at the school were fully integrated until the Kentucky Legislature passed a law in 1904 that prohibited school integration. The law was amended in 1950 to allow integrated education above the high school level and Berea returned to its roots, becoming the first school in Kentucky to re-open its doors to African-Americans.

Notable: Berea’s motto is “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth.”

Famous Alum: Carter G. Woodson, an African-American historian, journalist, and author. After graduating with a Bachelor of Literature degree from Berea, Woodson earned his PhD and taught at Howard University. He pioneered the celebration of “Negro History Week” in 1926, which would serve as the precursor to “Black History Month” as we know it today.

How to Spend the Money Saved on Tuition: Berea is home to the Kentucky Artisan Center, a 25,000-square-foot facility that showcases Kentucky-made arts and crafts in a variety of exhibits.

5. Olin College of Engineering

college9.jpgOlin College is a school of 300 in Neeedham, Mass., where every admitted student receives four years of free tuition valued at $130,000. The school is funded by a $400 million grant from the F.W. Olin Foundation and ranks as one of the top undergraduate engineering programs in the country. There is great emphasis placed on philanthropy at Olin; students are encouraged to develop creative ideas that address societal needs and help make the world a better place.

History: The school is named for Franklin W. Olin, who founded the Olin Corporation and made a fortune selling ammunition. Olin was a great philanthropist, too. Since 1938, the F.W. Olin Foundation has contributed more than $300 million in grants to colleges and universities throughout the country. The same foundation financed the development of Olin College, which was completed in 2002. The school graduated its first class in 2006.

Notable: Indicative of the entrepreneurial spirit of the school, six Olin students are taking a year off to develop educational Internet software – think Google Docs meets Facebook – for local middle school students. The students expect the software, which will include built-in features that allow parents and teachers to interact with and monitor their students’ work, to be operational by mid-April.

Famous Alum: He’s not exactly famous, but Alex Dorsk does have a cleverly titled blog chronicling his time aboard a research vessel with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

How to Spend the Money Saved on Tuition: Honor the legacy of F.W. Olin, who played two years of professional baseball after graduating from Cornell, with a trip to Fenway Park in nearby Boston.

6. Cooper Union

cooper.jpgLocated in Manhattan, Cooper Union offers degree programs in art, architecture, and engineering, and every admitted student receives four years of free tuition valued at $130,000. According to a recent article in the New York Times, applications for early decision to the school were up 70 percent this year. The admissions rate at Cooper Union is about 8 percent, while the enrollment is a little more than 900. The Cooper Union endowment is valued at nearly $600 million.

History: Peter Cooper, who invented the first locomotive in the United States, believed that education of the highest quality should be “as free as air and water,” so he founded Cooper Union in 1858. Cooper’s greatest legacy may have come 14 years earlier, when he received the first American patent for powdered gelatin. A cough syrup manufacturer bought the patent from Cooper, developed a prepackaged gelatin dessert, and named it Jell-O in 1897.

Notable: The Great Hall on the Cooper Union campus has been the site of several historic speeches. Abraham Lincoln outlined his views on slavery – namely that he didn’t want to see it spread – in a famous address there, while Mark Twain spoke at the school’s inauguration.

Famous Alum: Milton Glaser, who founded New York Magazine and designed the ubiquitous I Love New York logo.

How to Spend the Money Saved on Tuition: Fifth Avenue is a start.

7. Curtis Institute of Music

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Like Juillard, the Curtis Institute of Music is considered one of the most prestigious performing arts conservatories in the world. Unlike Juillard, tuition at Curtis is free. Every student admitted to the school of 160 in Philadelphia is provided a full scholarship, and all piano, harpsichord, composition, and conducting majors are lent Steinway grand pianos. As part of their training, students at Curtis host over 100 public concerts each year, and receive one-on-one instruction from the musically accomplished faculty.

History: Mary Louise Curtis Bok founded the Curtis Institute in 1924 as a place for talented young performers to prepare for careers as professional musicians. She named the school in honor of her father, Cyrus Curtis, the founder of Ladies Home Journal and a fellow music lover.

Notable: According to the school’s Web site, 17 percent of the principal chairs in America’s top 25 orchestras and four music directorships in the top 50 are held by Curtis-trained musicians. More than sixty alumni have performed with the Metropolitan Opera.

Famous Alum: Anthony McGill, a member of the Metropolitan Opera and the clarinetist in the quartet that played at Barack Obama’s Inauguration last month. Also: Leonard Bernstein.

How to Spend the Money Saved on Tuition: Buy a membership to the Franklin Institute to supplement your musical education.

8. Alice Lloyd College

alice.jpgAll students at Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Ky., are required to work at least 10 hours per week in exchange for free tuition. Students who need additional financial aid to pay for room and board may work up to 15 hours per week. Jobs at the school of 550 are assigned based on a student’s work experience and personal preference.

History: Alice Spencer Geddes Lloyd, a former publisher and editor of The Cambridge Press, moved from Boston to Eastern Kentucky in 1916. With the help of June Buchanan, Lloyd chartered what was then called Caney Junior College in 1923. The school became an accredited four-year college in 1980.

Notable: The call letters for Alice Lloyd College’s non-commercial radio station, which has broadcast inspirational programming around the clock since 1998, are WWJD-FM.

Famous Alum: Carl D. Perkins, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1949 until his death in 1984. Perkins’s legacy lives on in the form of the Perkins Loan, a need-based Federal student loan.

How to Spend the Money Saved on Tuition: Elk were introduced to Kentucky in 1997 as part of a restoration project and Knott County, which includes Pippa Passes, is now known as the elk capital of the East. Tours are available through several outlets.

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