Is Community College Free in Illinois?

Is Community College Free in Illinois?
Campus is the new alternative to online community college that provides a 100% live and online Associate of Arts in Business Administration degree program. We’re on a mission to maximize access to a world-class education, starting with our career-focused business program that equips students from across the U.S. with a solid foundation in core business principles to set them up for success no matter what their next step is.

Imagine the doors that could open if you could pursue your education without the burden of tuition fees.

Just a few years ago in the U.S., forty percent of first-time freshmen chose community college–an option that allows them to graduate without a back-breaking load of debt.

Though community college is already an affordable option, some states are gaining attention by going one step further: many states now allow students to attend community college for free. In Illinois, the possibility of attending community college tuition-free has become a significant point of interest among students and policymakers alike.

Illinois is just one of many states that has created programs to help students access higher education. Among the initiatives aimed at facilitating access to higher education, Illinois stands out with its innovative approach to providing free community college opportunities. Currently, annual in-state tuition and fees for 4-year public institutions in Illinois is $14,390 on average.

Community colleges are, in contrast, much more affordable: out-of-state students pay about $11,320 in tuition, while their in-state counterparts pay about $4,010. 

If you’re wondering, ‘Is community college free in Illinois?’ then read on. This article explores exciting opportunities for reduced-price and free community colleges specifically in Illinois. So, if you've been questioning whether community college is free in Illinois, this article aims to shed light on the various pathways to accessing affordable higher education in the state.

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Illinois Monetary Award Program (MAP)

In Illinois, there is no formal, blanket "free community college" program in the traditional sense where tuition is universally covered for all students. While Illinois doesn't offer a one-size-fits-all "free community college" program, it does provide a range of financial aid options to make attending community college more accessible.

However, the State offers various financial aid opportunities and initiatives that can enable qualifying students to access community college education at little to no cost.

Among these financial aid programs is the Illinois Monetary Award Program (MAP), designed to assist eligible students in covering the costs of attending community college. The Illinois MAP is a state-funded, need-based grant administered by the ISAC (Illinois Student Assistance Commission) to support undergraduate students at Illinois Monetary Award Program Approved Schools

MAP grants may be used to cover college tuition and mandatory fees only. The funds are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, and the MAP Grant award for 2023-24 is $8,400 for fall/spring semesters; grants are unavailable for the summer term. 

The value of a student's MAP Grant award is based on eligibility and enrollment. Students enrolled in 15-plus credit hours will be offered the total value of their MAP Grant. 

However, students will receive a prorated MAP grant for every credit hour less than 15. Also, the MAP award can be adjusted if you receive other assistance paying tuition and/or fees. The same applies if you receive gift aid (scholarships and grants) over your cost of attendance.

You can be eligible for both MAP and Pell Grant awards. Interestingly, when you receive both awards, it can provide a more comprehensive financial aid package and significantly reduce your out-of-pocket costs for tuition, fees, and other educational expenses. 

Remember, you are accessing both state and federal resources. While MAP covers tuition and specific fees, the Pell Grant offers additional funds for educational expenses.

Illinois' state leadership is optimistic about the potential of the MAP grant in conjunction with other programs. For example, During Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker's Feb. 15, 2023 State of the State remarks, he said, "With a $100 million increase to MAP, we can make history.” 

He continued, “Together with Pell Grants, virtually everyone at or below median income in Illinois can attend community college tuition-free. That means higher wages and better jobs in healthcare, I.T., construction management, manufacturing, accounting, and much more.”

Eligibility Criteria & How to Apply

To be eligible for MAP, students must:

  • be an Illinois resident. If you are considered a dependent, your parents must be Illinois residents, too.
  • demonstrate financial need.
  • not have earned a bachelor's degree.
  • be enrolled at least 3 hours in a term in a degree or certificate program at any approved Illinois college. 
  • not have used the equivalent of 135 or more MAP-paid credit hours.
  • continue with satisfactory academic progress.
  • not owe any student loan or a refund on any state or federal grant.
  • file their FAFSA as soon as possible after Oct. 1.

How to Apply

  1. Complete the FAFSA form online and provide accurate information about your financial situation and the schools you wish to attend. Include at least one eligible Illinois college/ university to indicate your intention to use MAP funds. 
  2. Check your MAP eligibility status.
  3. Complete any additional documentation.
  4. Maintain satisfactory academic progress.
  5. Renew your FAFSA annually to continue receiving MAP funds.

FAFSA and any other required documentation must be filed accurately as soon as possible after October 1 to maximize your chances of receiving MAP assistance.

Your amount can vary based on your financial need and the funding available in a given year. Priority awarding consideration is provided to returners who file their FAFSA by December 1. 

Considering Community College?

The possibility to pursue your education without the big burden of tuition fees is not a dream; it's a reality in many states across the United States. Research the free community college options and other tuition assistance programs in your specific state and begin the journey toward achieving your goals.

At Campus, we have an online associate degree in business program where tuition is below the maximum Federal Pell Grant award, so students who receive the full Pell would have no out-of-pocket tuition costs if they enroll. 

Campus also provides a free laptop, wifi access as needed, and free e-textbook and tutoring access to keep costs low. Request more info to learn more.

Want to learn more about Campus?

Our admissions advisors can answer your questions.