Colleges Offer Free Tuition And Travel Incentives, As Universities Look To Battle Student Debt Crisis

Let's put one myth to rest: There's no such thing as free tuition. Even if you get a college scholarship, you still have to take into everyday account expenses for books, technology, food, and everything in between. Instead of just lowering their climbing tuition rates, some colleges are resorting to unconventional ways to help pay for student tuition — or at least make the themselves more appealing.

Before we delve deeper into some of the ways colleges are trying to transform into "cooleges" (can I trademark this word?) by offering incentives to pay for tuition and travel, let's first take a look at the cold hard facts of student debt in the United States.

And as Bustle reported last year:

Federal grants almost doubled between the 2008-2009 and the 2010-2011 school year, peaking at $51 billion. But the next year, aid was cut by five billion. This year, aid is expected to drop another billion, thanks in part to the effects of sequestration, which has reduced the amount of federal work-study aid and research grants. Two-thirds of college students depend on federal aid to help fund their education — which might take on a whole new meaning in 2018, when Obama’s proposal to tie federal aid to college rankings would go into effect.

So, not very encouraging.

Perhaps that's why schools in Michigan and other states are considering "pay-it-forward" legislation, where students would pay a percentage of their future income to contribute to their education costs. The Michigan legislation would create a fund with $2 million in startup money for 200 students to go to college for free. The plans would have no interest and may be a flexible option for lower-income students who don't have immediate funds to attend attend.

The Detroit Free Press explains:

Michigan’s plan would require students to agree to pay a fixed percentage of their post-collegiate income — 2% for community college students and 4% for university students — to the fund for five years for each year they attended school under the program. So, a student who went to the University of Michigan and graduated in four years would have to pay 4% of their income back every year for the first 20 years after college.

Oregon is currently weighing a similar pay-it-forward tuition plan, and an education group wants test it in 2016. Detractors say it presents way more problems than it solves, however, including 20-year pay-back periods, an inability to collect from students who end up working in other states or overseas, and a shortage of room-and-board fees.

Tufts University is another school offering a free tuition option, but its plan is a bit more appealing. Tufts' 1+4 program gives incoming students the chance to explore and volunteer at a global location, all while having their housing, airfare, and visa fees paid for by the school. Selected students will be allowed to defer admission to Tufts for one year, but will keep connected to the school via email and video chat. Other schools like Princeton and University of North Carolina offer similar programs to burnt-out high school seniors, and they say it better prepares students for college. Can we go?

No more Super Seniors at Baltimore! The University of Baltimore apparently has a big problem with timely graduation rates, because the school just announced its "Finish4Free" program, which offers free tuition to seniors in their last semesters if they finish a degree in four years. The school has a measly eight percent four-year graduation rate.

University President Robert L. Bogomolny says the program rewards students for finishing school in time and lessens their debt (while also freeing up resources and costs for the school itself, probably).

"Most of our students are first-time students, they're economically challenged students and they're coming from families that don't have a history of higher education," Bogomolny said. "So, for them, persistence is more complex."

Sounds like a good incentive.

It's encouraging to see some colleges tackle the growing student-debt crisis. They just have to make sure that their programs solve the problem — not just draw it out over a longer period of time.