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9 fabulous financial aid offers for college

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Enrollment down, financial aid up
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Enrollment down, financial aid up | iStock.com

Enrollment down, financial aid up

With lower enrollment and declining tuition revenues, many colleges are losing money and doing what they can to woo students back into the classroom. Research by the credit rating and economic analysis provider Moody's Investors Service shows that approximately 40% of all colleges had decreased enrollment in fall 2015. Furthermore, nearly a quarter of all private colleges and just over 20% of public institutions projected a decline in tuition revenue the following fiscal year.

To improve enrollment numbers and college access, some schools are offering significant scholarships and tuition discounts while others simply maintain generous financial aid policies perennially. Here are 9 sweet financial aid deals.

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Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio | Photo courtesy of Antioch College

Antioch College, Ohio

The deal: Free tuition for 4 years to all incoming freshmen in the 2014 academic year.

Formerly part of Antioch University, this college in Yellow Springs, Ohio, closed from 2008 until 2011 and reopened as a separate school last year. As it rebuilt enrollment, Antioch provided a full-tuition scholarship valued at more than $100,000 to all freshmen entering that fall. It offered half-tuition scholarships to 2015 enrollees, says Dean of Admission Micah Canal.

"We don't want to pull any punches here or underestimate the assignment of coming to a small, private, academically rigorous college and actually rebuilding it," says Canal. "(It's critical) to attract the very best, the most academically capable and also the most gritty students to come here to help us take on this rather challenging and unique assignment."

Families still pay for room and board, which totals $11,365 for the upcoming year; however, separate grants are available to help needy students.

Only a few schools, such as the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, offer gratis tuition to all. But the 5 U.S. service academies and work colleges, including College of the Ozarks in Missouri and Berea College in Kentucky, provide free tuition in exchange for military service or work.

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The Kalamazoo Promise, Michigan | Photo courtesy of Candace Brown / Kalamazoo Promise

The Kalamazoo Promise, Michigan

The deal: Free or discounted tuition at Michigan public colleges for Kalamazoo high school graduates.

With about 260,263 residents, Kalamazoo isn't a huge county, but for public school students there, it's a lucrative place to live. Thanks to anonymous donors, any student who attends 9th through 12th grade at a Kalamazoo public high school will receive 65% off tuition at any 2- or 4-year public college in Michigan. The longer the resident has attended a Kalamazoo secondary school, the more free tuition he or she gets. Those who attend kindergarten through 12th grade receive 100% free tuition for up to 130 college credits.

"There's really no 'gotchas,'" says Kalamazoo Promise Executive Director Bob Jorth. "(Students) do have to maintain a 2.0 GPA in college, but they're not required to come back to Kalamazoo."

Since the program started in 2006, it has awarded $66 million to more than 3,800 students. Several towns have followed in Kalamazoo's footsteps. El Dorado, Arkansas; New Haven, Connecticut; Rockford, Illinois, and Pittsburgh offer similar programs to city residents. A list of Promise programs is available at FinAid.org.

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Community College of Baltimore County, Maryland | Photo courtesy of Community College of Baltimore County

Community College of Baltimore County, Maryland

The deal: Free community college classes for high school students.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is pushing to make in-state community colleges free, but Maryland's Community College of Baltimore County, or CCBC, is already offering deals for area high school students. The College 4 Free program allows juniors and seniors at 28 Baltimore County high schools to take up to 4 community college classes free. That's equal to one semester of college.

"One of the advantages of a program like College 4 Free is that smart, talented young people in the high schools often will sign up for Advanced Placement classes, and yet many 4-year institutions are no longer accepting scores of 3 or 4 to equate the college credit. Instead you have to have a 5," says CCBC President Sandra Kurtinitis, Ph.D. "By taking the actual college class instead of the Advanced Placement class, most (students) will earn a good grade."

Advanced Placement tests are scored on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest.

Students who enroll in more than 4 classes may also be eligible to receive a 50% tuition discount.

Many 2-year colleges offer free courses for high school students, as do a few 4-year institutions, including Marlboro College in Vermont.

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DC Tuition Assistance Grant | Photo courtesy of the Executive Office of Mayor Vincent C. Gray

DC Tuition Assistance Grant

The deal: Up to $10,000 for out-of-state tuition costs.

The problem with living in the District of Columbia is that students who don't attend one of the few colleges within the district's borders may have to pay out-of-state tuition. Enter DC Tuition Assistance Grant, or DC TAG. Designed to ease the financial pain, the program provides up to $10,000 per year for Washington, D.C., residents attending out-of-state public colleges. In addition, $2,500 per year is available for students attending 2-year schools, historically black institutions and private colleges in the D.C. metro area. To qualify, applicants must be first-time college students, under age 24 and living in the D.C. area for at least a year.

Out-of-state tuition can easily jack up tuition prices by 50% to 75%, but there are a few ways to eliminate those fees. Many schools located near state borders extend out-of-state waivers to students from nearby towns. Some states also maintain lax residency requirements that allow students to apply for in-state tuition after living in that area for a year or less. A full list of each state's residency requirements is available at CollegeBoard.com.

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Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau, Mo. | Photo courtesy of Southeast Missouri State University

Southeast Missouri State University

The deal: Mega scholarships for all incoming freshmen with high GPAs and test scores.

Good grades and high scores pay at this school in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. All high school graduates who have a 3.9 GPA and at least a 33 on the ACT or a 1440 on the SAT (on a scale of 1600) automatically receive full tuition and room and board for up to 4 years. Smaller awards are automatically given to new students with a 3.5 GPA and at least a 24 ACT score or a 1090 SAT score.

"We want it to be very straightforward for a student to be able to see what they could qualify for based on academic achievement in high school," says Lenell Hahn, director of admissions at Southeast Missouri State University. Hahn says that the automatic scholarship program gives approximately $17 million in awards annually.

The catch: There's a tight Dec. 1 deadline. After that, awards are substantially smaller, though students may be eligible for other award programs.

Automatic scholarship programs are easy to find with some research. Head to your school's financial aid website to see if it offers guaranteed awards for academically talented students.

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Abilene Christian University, Abilene, Texas | Credit: Jeremy Enlow / Abilene Christian University

Abilene Christian University, Texas

The deal: Free tuition for all National Merit finalists and semifinalists.

The Preliminary SAT, or PSAT, qualifies some high school juniors for National Merit Scholarships. Among the 1.5 million students who take the test each year, only about 8,000 receive money from the National Merit Scholarship Corp. But some colleges will pay handsomely for National Merit contenders.

"National Merit finalists and semifinalists have enormous academic capacity and potential," says Kevin Campbell, chief enrollment officer for Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. "They help set a proper pace and level of student engagement in the classroom, and they partner with faculty on research projects. They enrich the academic experience for other students and faculty."

Abilene offers smaller awards to students who achieve National Merit commendation status.

Many colleges offer aid for National Merit finalists and semifinalists, but only a few offer full tuition. Among those is Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama, which offers free tuition to semifinalists and pays room, board and fees for finalists.

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Amherst College, Amherst, Mass. | Photo courtesy of Amherst College

Amherst College, Massachusetts

The deal: No student loans required.

This liberal arts college in Amherst, Massachusetts, has an overwhelming sticker price of about $65,000 per year, but Amherst also offers equally eye-popping financial aid packages. One of several "no loans" schools, Amherst and institutions like it meet 100% of a student's demonstrated financial need with grants, scholarships and student employment opportunities. That doesn't mean the school is free -- families still need to apply for financial aid and pay their expected family contribution -- but it does mean students will carry minimal debt relative to their family's income and assets. Despite the enormous sticker price, families pay an average net price of about $12,000 per year, reports the university. The average financial aid award is about $47,000.

No-loans schools are generally costly private institutions, but they can be an amazing deal for low-income, middle-income and even upper-middle-income families. A handful of private institutions, including Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine; Columbia University in New York City; and Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina, maintain no-loans policies. A greater number of schools uphold no-loans initiatives for families under a certain income threshold.

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Loan Repayment Assistance Programs © michaeljung/Shutterstock.com

Loan Repayment Assistance Programs

The deal: Help paying back student loans.

The government offers an income-based repayment option that will cap your monthly loan payments according to your paycheck, but that's available only on federal student loans. Loan Repayment Assistance Programs, or LRAPs, cover both federal and private student loans, as well as Parent PLUS Loans. Designed to help foot student loan bills for graduates with moderate incomes who are working at least 30 hours per week, LRAPs are available at a few dozen undergraduate institutions and more than 100 law schools. Terms and conditions vary by school, but many programs offer some assistance to recent undergraduates earning less than $38,000 annually and pay the entire loan tab for graduates earning $20,000 or less, says LRAP Association President Peter Samuelson.

"(Students) get their financial aid award and they say, 'I just can't afford it,'' Samuelson says. "What LRAP does is takes away that fear and says if your income is low, we'll help you make your loan payments."

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University of Alaska College Savings Plan | Portland Press Herald/Getty Images

University of Maine Flagship Match Program

The deal: Out-of-state students pay the same tuition and fees as in-state students from certain states.

The Flagship Match Program is a scholarship program that guarantees academically qualified, first-year students from several nearly states will pay the same tuition and fee rate as their home state's flagship institution.

The Flagship Match award is renewable for up to 4 years provided renewal criteria are met each semester.

Eligible students have home residency in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. They pay the tuition cost and fees at the University of Maine that they would have paid their state's public university.

All other students entering in fall 2016 will receive a "competitive" grant that will offset the cost of non-resident tuition and fees at the University of Maine, the university's website says.

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