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Although Alabama doesn’t have any state-run loan programs, state financial aid is available to Alabama residents in the form of grants to four-year public universities, two-year community colleges, and even private colleges. All of this combines with federal financial aid packages, private scholarships and social services to make college affordable for even low-income students looking for a cheap price.
Marion Military Institute is a military junior college, one of only four in the U.S., and it prepares students for military and civilian careers. Some students are working toward an appointment to a service academy, others are in the Early Commissioning Program (ECP) to earn a commission as a second lieutenant in the National Guard or Army Reserve, and the rest are following a civilian path and working on an associate degree in a disciplined environment. Students in the ECP may be eligible for Army benefits, including a monthly allowance of several hundred dollars. Additionally, the college awards scholarships based on financial need, academic merit, and skills such as athletics.
Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
Starting out in 1830 as the first state-chartered institution in Alabama, the University of North Alabama has nearly two centuries of offering quality education to students in the region. The average need-based scholarship or grant award is $4,210. Need-based aid awards do not need to be repaid. Incoming freshmen can have up to 60 percent of their financial needs met through a combination of government grants, merit-based scholarships and loans. UNA offers several merit-based scholarships such as the Valedictorian and Salutatorian Scholarships ($4,200/year) and a scholarship for National Merit and National Achievement finalists and semi-finalists ($8,500/year). There are also scholarships available for other student activities such as ROTC, service (cheer team), and performance (athletics, chorale, band).
Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
Founded in 1896 as the Alabama Girls' Industrial School admitting around 150 young women from all over the state, the University of Montevallo is now a co-educational institute of higher learning with students representing 23 countries and offering degree programs in more than 70 academic disciplines. Entering freshmen with outstanding academic credentials may be considered for the university's most prestigious scholarship program - the Montevallo Ambassador Program Scholarship (MAPS). Ten MAPS awards are given each year covering the cost of tuition, fees, and room and board. Full-time freshmen may also be considered for the following scholarships: Presidential Honors Scholarships ($7,500/year), Alumni Leadership Scholarship ($7,000/year), Freshman Leadership Scholarship ($6,000/year), and the Academic Recognition Scholarship ($4,500/year).
Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
In Alabama, community college students are encouraged to transfer their credits through two official programs: the Statewide Transfer & Articulation Reporting System (STARS), and the 2-to-4 Transfer Program. These programs are designed to help students in Alabama community colleges plan their coursework with the assurance that their credits will transfer to a public four-year institution within the state.
Using the STARS program, community college students in Alabama can take streamlined course offerings in the Two Year Common Course Directory. These courses are approved by the Articulation & General Studies Committee (AGSC) and will transfer to public four-year institutions in Alabama. They also make it possible for students to complete the equivalent of an associate degree before transferring. On the STARS website, Alabama community college students can obtain an AGSC-approved transfer guide for their chosen major (or any number of majors they may be interested in). Four-year universities in Alabama will honor the credit transfers mapped out on the guide for four years from the date of printing. Students are encouraged to obtain a transfer guide in their freshman year of community college so they can plan courses accordingly.
In addition to the STARS program for transfers from community colleges to public universities, Alabama allows students in the community college system to transfer to independent four-year colleges and universities in the state with the Alabama Independent Colleges 2 to 4 Transfer Program. This program is almost identical to STARS, allowing students to develop a transfer agreement that guides them with two years of coursework that will transfer to independent or private four-year institutions.
Alabama has several mechanisms in place to make college, if not cheap, then at least affordable for students and their parents. Many, but not all, state-administered funds require prospective students to first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, including those administered by the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, the state’s main agency for student financial aid. Visitors to the ACHE website can compare tuition and fees for full-time residents and nonresidents across the state’s 26 two-year colleges and 14 four-year universities. They can also find financial aid application procedures for both Commission-administered monies and other sources of aid in the state, such as American Legion Auxiliary scholarships.
The Alabama Community College System has scholarship programs for seniors, athletes, performing artists and high-performing students, but all are facilitated by individual campuses. Theater or music majors at Alabama Southern Community College, for instance, can earn $10,000 toward their degree. They should go to the Alabama Southern website to download an application and see scholarship guidelines. Similarly, seniors attending any community college in the state are entitled to free tuition. Seniors at Lawson State merely have to fill out a one-page tuition waiver form and submit it along with photo ID to the school’s financial aid office. Find a community college near you at this Alabama Community College System map.
Meanwhile, parents who are thinking ahead to paying their child’s tuition should look into the state’s 529 fund, College Counts, a tax deductible savings plan that can be applied to student expenses at both in-state and out-of-state schools.
Summary: The Alabama Student Assistance Program provides need-based grants from $300 to $5,000 per year to Alabama undergrads attending school in the state.
Eligibility: Recipients will be undergraduates attending any Alabama school, public or private, who are found to have financial need.
How to Apply: Fill out FAFSA and submit it after January 1st. Funding is limited and distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, so it’s important to file FAFSA early. Funding is automatic for those who qualify based on financial need.
Summary: Students attending certain private colleges in Alabama can access up to $4,800 spread out over four years, depending on availability of funds that program year.
Eligibility: Alabama residents are eligible if they are registered as undergraduates at any of 14 private institutions: Amridge University, Birmingham-Southern College, Concordia College, Faulkner University, Huntingdon College, Judson College, Miles College, Oakwood College, Samford University, Spring Hill College, Stillman College, United States Sports Academy, University of Mobile and South University-Montgomery.
How to Apply: Applications can be picked up at financial aid offices for any of the colleges listed above. There are multiple deadlines throughout the year — one each for the fall and spring semesters as well as separate deadlines for the winter and spring quarters.
Summary: Nearly every year, Alabama police officers and firefighters die or are permanently disabled while fulfilling their duty to protect others. This program, facilitated directly by the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, pays tuition, fees, books and educational supplies for their children and unmarried spouses.
Eligibility: Students must be undergraduates at a public two-year or four-year college in the state. Children must have been under 21 at the time of death, while spouses must enroll in an undergraduate program within five years of death.
How to Apply: Apply directly with the Alabama Commission on Higher Education or pick up an application at an Alabama college or university.
Summary: The Alabama Board of Nursing gives scholarships to registered nurses working on their MSN degrees, provided they teach nursing or work as a nurse in Alabama for two years after graduation.
Eligibility: The program is open to Alabama residents licensed as RNs in the state who take at least six graduate credits for consecutive semesters.
How to Apply: Submit an electronic application by July 31. The application includes five essays, employment and education background, and two proofs of residency.
Summary: Each of nine government-recognized tribes is allocated scholarships for tribal members who attend college. Preference is given to students in health programs.
Eligibility: In general, applicants must have been members of a recognized tribe for at least three years. However, some tribes have additional requirements. Recipients must usually attend school in Alabama, unless they enroll in a program elsewhere that is not available in Alabama.
How to Apply: Check with your tribe about its eligibility requirements. Then fill out a short application and send along with a college acceptance letter or proof of enrollment by April 30.
Summary: If the head of your family is legally blind and your family’s income is at or lower than 1.3 times the federal poverty level for its size, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services will see to it that your tuition and fees are waived for up to four years of school. You will also receive money for textbooks, though the amount depends on the size of the applicant pool each year.
Eligibility: In addition to the standards mentioned above, students must have been an Alabama resident for five years and attend a public college in the state within two years of graduating from high school.
How to Apply: Applications are available at the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services.
Summary: Student-athletes can pay for their tuition and books by enrolling at one of Alabama’s state-run two-year colleges and playing a varsity sport.
Eligibility: Students must be full time and play a sport with scholarships available.
How to Apply: Discuss scholarship availability directly with a coach, athletic director or financial aid officer at the school you plan to attend. Scholarships are given based upon performance during tryouts.
Summary: Performing artists can get their tuition paid for at the state’s public two-year colleges.
Eligibility: Students must be full time and participate in performing arts at the school.
How to Apply: Contact the financial aid office at the two-year college you hope to attend. Scholarships are given based upon talent as shown during auditions, which are the focus of the application process.
Summary: Alabama seniors above the age of 59 can receive free tuition to attend one of the state’s two-year junior and community colleges.
Eligibility: To be eligible for the scholarship, students must meet the same admission standards as any other college entrant, including holding a high school diploma or its equivalent.
How to Apply: Contact the college’s financial aid office directly to start the application process.
Summary: High-performing high school seniors can be rewarded with an academic scholarship up to the cost of tuition and books to attend one of the state’s community or junior colleges.
Eligibility: Anyone attending an Alabama public two-year college can apply, but priority is given to state residents.
How to Apply: Each school’s financial aid office is charged with administering the award, so pick up an application at the college you want to attend. Each college’s scholarship committee determines applicants’ academic merits.
Summary: A federal initiative available to Alabama graduates, the Stafford Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program wipes away up to $17,500 in student debt for special education instructors and secondary school math and science teachers. Other highly qualified (e.g., licensed and certified) primary and secondary teachers can get up to $5,000 in federal loans forgiven.
Eligibility: Graduates must teach in a designated low-income school for five years and be current on their loan payments to apply.
How to Apply: Complete the application and ask the chief administrative officer of the school you teach at to certify it. If your loan guarantor is the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority-Alabama, send it to the KHEAA office, who will mail a check to your lender.
Summary: Are you the child of a disabled or deceased Alabama veteran? The Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs will pay all the costs of your tuition, fees and books for up to five years of higher education study. Widows who have not remarried can get the same benefits for three years.
Eligibility: This program is open only to dependents of veterans disabled or killed while on duty. The veteran must have been a civilian resident of the state for at least one year before joining the military. That veteran’s child must start attending a public two-year or four-year college in Alabama before turning 26 to be eligible.
How to Apply: Eligible students should pick up an application from a veterans service office.
Summary: The Alabama National Guard gives its members with demonstrated financial need $2,000 per year for college expenses.
Eligibility: Active members of the Alabama National Guard who are attending any accredited degree program in the state and who have submitted the FAFSA are eligible for the award.
How to Apply: You must first submit the FAFSA before sending in a simple form. This form must be filled out in part by your school, which will provide financial details. The application must then be signed by an education services officer at the Alabama Military Department before being sent to the Alabama National Guard.
Summary: Wounded veterans attending Alabama’s public two- or four-year colleges as undergraduates may not have to pay tuition or fees.
Eligibility: Veterans must have maintained residency in Alabama from the time they were wounded to the present and submit a DD-214 as proof of receiving the Purple Heart. Applicants must also meet the school’s admission standards.
How to Apply: Talk to the school you want to attend to see if it offers a tuition waiver and how to apply.
Contact the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs for info on using GI Bill funding.
College isn’t cheap for most people, but for those having trouble meeting basic needs, it may seem like an unattainable luxury. The state of Alabama has resources for low-income individuals and families in need of everything from assistance with utility costs to affordable preschool, and nearly all of its government-assistance programs can be found on one website run by the federal government: Benefits.gov. The site covers 12 government programs, including ALL Kids (children’s health insurance) and Medicaid, Head Start (preschool and early preschool) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). Just read up on each program’s benefits, determine if you are eligible, and begin the application process.
Another solid resource is Need Help Paying Bills, which also lists statewide resources such as subsidized day care for lower-middle class families through the Child Care and Development Program.
To drill down and find local assistance, use the site’s clickable list of services by county, which focus on housing, utility bills, legal aid, child care, food and health care provided by local governments or community nonprofits. For example, Shelby County residents attending University of Montevallo can get the number for Cahaba Valley Health Care, which provides free healthcare to minority populations. They might also find out about the food pantry at Asbury United Methodist Church.
On-campus living is a requirement for underclassmen at many Alabama schools, including Birmingham-Southern College and Troy University. Fortunately, living on campus has its benefits. The all-in-one price means you don’t have to worry about budgeting for internet or utilities. Beyond just being easier, there are additional perks. For instance, several faculty members live on the Auburn University campus, where they regularly host social and educational gatherings for residents. There’s also variety, even at campuses with fewer housing options. University of Alabama Birmingham students have options ranging from four-bedroom/two-bathroom apartments to single-resident suites, giving them options about how many people they want to live with and whether they want to avail themselves of dining halls or use their own kitchen. Though colleges typically place students of the same sex in the same room (regardless of whether the residence hall is coed), housing for married couples is sometimes available. The University of North Alabama allows married couples to rent university apartments, but married underclassmen may be out of luck — upperclassmen get priority.
In addition to federal Pell grants, which can be applied toward housing, money from two of the state programs mentioned in the section above — the Alabama Student Assistance Program and the Alabama Student Grant Program — can be used for housing. Students should also look into the American Legion Auxiliary scholarships, which can be applied to on-campus room and board.
There are several online calculators that give a sense of how the cost of living on campus compares to the cost off campus. The first, from Foundations U, provides average rent, utilities, food, transportation and insurance costs from living away from school. The tool has numbers for 10 Alabama cities, which can then be compared to room and board costs on campus. For exact figures, use the CalcXML tool, which asks you to fill in estimates of 27 different costs for not only off campus and on campus but also at home. One other tool to check out, particularly if you have experience living on your own, is NerdWallet’s Cost of Living Calculator, which allows you to compare housing, transportation, food and entertainment prices in any of nine metropolitan areas in Alabama with cities anywhere in the country.
Not everyone lives on campus throughout their college career, but that doesn’t mean they have to completely strike out on their own. Most schools provide as much help as they can. For instance, the University of West Alabama’s housing office publishes a list of nearby apartments for students, noting which ones are government subsidized and reduce rent based on a student’s income.
Need more options? The following websites allow you to search around specific campuses across the state: CampusRent.com, ApartmentGuide.com and MyApartmentMap.com.
Although students should seek out school and state support first, there is always an additional safety net available in the form of emergency homeless shelters and transitional housing at the Alabama Homeless Shelter Directory.
Students living off campus may have more flexibility in their budget, but they also have to remember to keep the lights on. Since electricity usage fluctuates based on the season, students on a tight budget should consider Alabama Power’s budget billing service, which spreads costs out more evenly throughout the year. Even with that settled, off-campus students usually live with roommates to make it affordable.
Students at the University of Alabama, Auburn University, Shelton State Community College and Stillman College should consider becoming members of the Off Campus Association, which will handle service requests and pay their deposits to Alabama Power, Alagasco and the City of Tuscaloosa Water.
Students who have trouble coming up with money to pay for basic utilities should check into two umbrella resources. The first is the Alabama Weatherization Assistance Program. The second is the Alabama Low-Income High Energy Assistance Program, which maintains a clearinghouse of programs run by the federal and state governments, state utility companies, and local charities.
Some of the best hospitals in the country are actually university medical centers, which mix advanced research with excellent patient care. But that doesn’t necessarily mean much to students who need care. They will probably be going to the Student Health and Wellness Center instead, where they can get immunizations, mental health counselling or even see their primary care physician during normal business hours. It’s common for even small colleges to have student clinics on or near campus, although services vary at each.
Dental care can also be taken care of on campus, at least by UAB students who have access to the only dental school in the state. UAB School of Dentistry can provide services at half the rate of a private practice to patients who don’t mind having a dental student work on their teeth (under the supervision of a licensed dentist). Students on other campuses should look to the FreeDentalCare website, which lists free and sliding-scale clinics catering to low-income patients.
Just like most any other healthcare, accessing medical services on campus costs money. Some schools, like Birmingham-Southern College, require students to carry health insurance, regardless of whether they plan on using the school’s health services. For students who have trouble paying for healthcare premiums or out-of-pocket expenses, there are resources. FreeClinicDirectory.org has identified and linked to low-cost or free health centers in 59 of Alabama’s 67 counties. NeedyMeds.org has a similar list of clinics that work with patients to make healthcare affordable.
College can be a stressful time, and mental health or substance abuse issues that were previously under the surface can bubble up. The Alabama Department of Health maintains a directory of county-by-county telephone contacts for people with mental illnesses, intellectual disabilities and substance abuse disorders to inquire about local services.
Not every campus boasts child care, but schools who recruit nontraditional students understand its benefits. A good sign of child care on campus is if the college has a school of education with an emphasis on early childhood development. Students seeking an associate degree might target Jefferson College, where they can not only use the school’s child development center but also pay lower registration fees and have more scheduling options than parents from the general community. Bachelor’s students could be attracted to the University of North Alabama’s Kilby Child Development Center , which offers preschool and pre-K classes.
Students attending a school without on-campus child care should consult the Alabama Department of Human Resources’ day care directory.
The University of Alabama’s 37,000+ students, as well as faculty and staff, can use the Crimson Ride transportation service, which runs nine on-campus routes, three routes to downtown Tuscaloosa and nearby shopping, and buses to area apartments catering to students. Auburn University has Tiger Transit, which runs similar services. Both transportation systems are included in the cost of tuition. Most colleges also have airport shuttle arrangements for the holidays for an additional fee. So before budgeting for a car or public transportation, go on your college’s website and look for a section on transportation — you’ll likely find student discounts, if not free transportation. Not finding what you’re looking for? Try American Public Transportation Association’s list of transit agencies in the state. Then look for student passes or discounts on a transportation network you might use, such as Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority.
Food insecurity is a huge issue in Alabama and elsewhere in the country. To tackle it, many colleges — large and small — have set up food banks and pantries specifically for their students to get help discreetly. Auburn University, University of West Alabama and University of Montevallo are just three examples. Students without a campus food pantry can look on FoodPantries.org for area food banks and subsidized grocery resources. If they need a quick hot meal, they can also find a soup kitchen at HomelessShelterDirectory.org. Mothers who are trying to make ends meet while going to school should see if they qualify for Alabama’s Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program.
SEE ALSO: Our Encyclopedic Guide to Saving Money as a College Student.
Birmingham and its surrounding area is home to UAB and Birmingham-Southern, as well as several other private colleges and community colleges. (University of Montevallo is about an hour’s drive south.) Students at these colleges will be happy to discover that, according to Sperling’s Best Places, Birmingham’s cost of living is lower than the U.S. average in every major category with the exception of utilities. But students who go home during Birmingham’s hot, air conditioning-mandatory summers won’t have to worry too much about that. Students’ main expenses will be food.
As Alabama’s largest city, Birmingham has multiple nonprofit resources for students and their families who are trying to juggle school and finances. Here are a few:
Troy University and Auburn University at Montgomery are both located in the state capital. Students there will find that the cost of groceries, utilities and transportation is pretty much on par with the national average, says Sperling’s. The areas in which they’ll save money are healthcare and housing. The former is cheaper than not only the national average but also the Alabama average, according to AreaVibes.com.
Montgomery students in need can turn to several nonprofits for help, including:
For more information about nonprofits and government organizations working in the area, contact the Montgomery County Department of Human Resources.
Like the rest of the state, Mobile, home to the University of South Alabama, has a cheaper cost of living compared to the national average in pretty much every area except food. Unlike Birmingham and Montgomery, however, housing can get expensive once insurance costs are taken into consideration, given the city’s vulnerability to hurricanes and storms (though this is less likely to seriously affect student renters).
Mobile students on a budget have similar options to their counterparts in Birmingham and Montgomery. Resources include: