Comparing Sliding Scale Tuition Models at Different Online Colleges

sliding scale tuition

According to the US News and World Report, the average tuition of ranked US colleges and universities is as follows:

  • $10,662 Public in-state institution
  • $23,630 Public out-of-state institution
  • $42,162 Private institution

These tuition rates are out of reach for many aspiring college students. But they don’t know that there are several ways to reduce these average sticker prices. Everyone can have an affordable education with the right mindset and strategy.

Many online and traditional colleges are proactive in helping their students reduce tuition costs. They provide dedicated financial aid counselors who offer one-on-one guidance on navigating the complex world of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options. This support is crucial in making education more affordable.

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One of the best approaches to securing an affordable education is pursuing a college with a sliding scale tuition system. This applies to underprivileged students, typically those with family income below the median household income level. Students sometimes get to study FOR FREE using different online college tuition models.

When choosing affordable online colleges, it’s important to look beyond their sticker prices. They’re generally more affordable compared to traditional universities. Yet, you can still make them even cheaper.

You need to understand how each school’s financial aid opportunities work fully. These include sliding scale tuition and tuition payment plans. This will help you maximize resources and reduce out-of-pocket costs.

What is Sliding Scale Tuition?

At its core, sliding-scale tuition models are dedicated to low-income students. They aim to help these students gain full access to higher education, compete in the job market, and get out of poverty. Surprisingly, not many students are aware of this term, maybe because colleges don’t promote them as much as other financial aid for online colleges.

This model evaluates students’ financial resources and aligns their online education costs accordingly. It significantly reduces the students’ financial worries, helping them to focus more on their studies.

But unlike traditional tuition, this model does not offer a fixed rate. It fluctuates and adjusts periodically. The goal of sliding scale tuition models is to keep college costs reasonable and equitable for low-income students.

If the student’s financial situation improves, tuition costs may go up. On the other hand, if their financial situation worsens, tuition costs may go down. Additionally, these flexible tuition options may not pay for other expenses, like supplies for the class.

The qualifications for the sliding scale tuition model vary from school to school. Some online colleges have a specific threshold. Other schools adopt a more holistic approach to evaluating financial needs. Nevertheless, applicants must demonstrate their financial needs by providing:

  • tax returns
  • income statements
  • financial records

Online colleges with a more holistic approach will also assess:

  • family size
  • debts
  • expenses
  • personal obligations

It’s really important to familiarize yourself with specific college policies. This knowledge will help you wisely choose which online college best suits your needs.

Beyond this model, you can (and should) search for scholarship opportunities for online students. Combining a sliding scale model with scholarships may zero out your out-of-pocket costs.

Benefits of Sliding Scale Tuition Models

Many students ask, “Are online classes cheaper than in person?” Yes, it can be cheaper. However, the specific cost-savings will depend on several factors, including the program’s cost and reduction from your financial aid.

If you qualify for sliding scale tuition models, you can expect these cost-saving-related benefits:

Affordability and accessibility

The sliding scale tuition model’s priority is to give all types of students equal opportunities for higher education. Furthermore, institutions implementing cost-effective online degrees often see improvements in student retention and academic success. It helps create a fairer society where success depends on how skilled and hardworking people are, not just on how wealthy they are.

Flexibility in different financial situations

Sliding scale tuition models have reassessments, typically done yearly. This helps schools adjust tuition costs when families’ incomes or unexpected expenses change.

The flexibility sliding scale and pay-as-you-go tuition models have several benefits:

  1. It supports students during times of economic uncertainty.
  2. It fosters a sense of stability and security within the student body.
  3. It encourages transparency and trust between the institution and its students.

Comparing Sliding Scale Tuition Models at Top Online Colleges

Arkansas State University

The A-State Promise Plus gives free tuition to Arkansas residents with a household income below $70,000. The program pays for tuition after using federal and state grants. This helps eligible students attend A-State without paying tuition.


  • Provides a significant financial benefit by covering tuition costs for eligible students.
  • Helps reduce financial barriers to higher education for Arkansas residents with moderate incomes.
  • Encourages college access and affordability within the state.


  • Limited to Arkansas residents and specific income thresholds, which may exclude some students outside these criteria.
  • Coverage is focused on tuition and may not include other educational expenses such as fees, books, and living costs.
  • Availability and funding levels of the program may vary based on state and university budget priorities.

Brown University

Brown University has a great financial aid program to help students from different economic backgrounds. Families making $125,000 or less with normal assets get all tuition costs covered by Brown University. Students from families earning under $60,000 with normal assets get scholarships that cover tuition, housing, meals, and books. There are also more scholarships to help with other school costs besides tuition.


  • Comprehensive financial aid packages that cover tuition and also other essential costs such as room and board and books.
  • Targets both moderate and low-income families.
  • Demonstrates a commitment to socioeconomic diversity and equity in higher education.


  • Availability may depend on funding availability and annual budget allocations.
  • There are specific income and asset thresholds. It may exclude some students who fall slightly above the stated criteria.
  • Competitive admissions process poses challenges for many.

Texas A&M University

Texas A&M University has a program called Aggie Assurance. It helps students whose families make $60,000 or less each year. The program gives grants and scholarships as well to cover tuition costs. This helps reduce the money worries for eligible students and their families.


  • Provides a clear and straightforward commitment to covering tuition costs for eligible students.
  • Helps alleviate financial barriers to higher education for low-income families in Texas.
  • Encourages college access and affordability within the state university system.


  • Coverage is limited to tuition expenses and may not cover other educational costs such as fees, books, and living expenses.
  • Eligibility criteria based solely on income may not fully capture other financial circumstances that affect a student’s ability to afford college.
  • Funding availability and program sustainability may depend on state and university budget allocations.

How to Determine the Best Tuition Model for You

Choosing the best way to pay for your education involves considering a few things and looking at your money situation. Here are things to think about when choosing a payment plan:

  • Cost: Compare the total expense of each payment option, including any additional charges.
  • Financial Aid: Evaluate each model’s availability of scholarships, grants, and loans. Consider how much financial assistance is offered and how it impacts your overall expenses.
  • Flexibility: Assess the flexibility of each plan. Can you make small monthly payments or defer payments for a period?
  • Duration of Program: Consider the length of your intended study period and whether the payment plan aligns with it. Check if there are penalties or extra fees for extending your program duration.
  • School Reputation: Ensure the institution is reputable and accredited. This affects the value of your degree and potential career opportunities after graduation.

One way to determine which tuition model is best for you is to assess your financial situation. This process might be challenging for first-time self-evaluators. Here’s a simple step-by-step guide to evaluating your financial situation.

#1. If you have a job, determine how much money you earn each year and list your monthly dues. The remainder will show how much money you have for college.

#2. Ask about your parent’s income and if they can help with your education costs. Understanding their financial situation will provide a clearer picture of how much support you may receive. If none, that’s okay; it would likely mean that you’re qualified to apply for a sliding scale tuition.

#3. Calculate any savings or investments you have that could be used towards tuition. This includes any college funds set aside by your family or accumulated over time.

#4. Review your budget to prioritize expenses. Identify areas where you can cut costs to allocate more funds toward tuition.

#5. Explore different tuition payment plans offered by the educational institution, such as semester-based payments, deferred payment options, or installment plans.

#6. Seek advice from financial aid counselors or advisors to discuss personalized financial planning strategies and understand all available options.


Is online college cheaper? Do you have to pay for online school? Yes, and yes. But do you need to pay sticker prices? No. Sliding scale tuition and other financial support can lower costs for students with different financial situations.

To find the right option for your education and budget, research tuition plans, financial aid options, and total program expenses. This careful evaluation will help you choose wisely and pursue your academic goals without financial stress.