Success Stories: Graduates of Online Colleges with Sliding Scale Tuition

sliding scale tuition

Sliding scale tuition is an excellent way for students to achieve their dreams. Due to the rising cost of education, many students are forced to forfeit their dreams of earning a college degree. The enrollment rate has dropped by 7.4% in the last decade.

The good news is that more and more colleges and universities are amping up their efforts to increase enrollment rates in their institutions. Many of them have opened up online learning modalities.

Online learning allows students to reduce indirect college expenses like transportation and housing costs. Another benefit of online learning is it doesn’t often need printed textbooks; instead, it allows for affordable digital textbooks.

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Sliding scale tuition is not discussed much when looking for a college. If you’re looking for an even more affordable way to higher education, consider online colleges with sliding scale tuition. If you’re a low- to mid-income student, this post is for you.

Online colleges with sliding scale tuition offer a way to even more affordable online education. These colleges offer different pricing options based on a student’s financial situation or other factors.

What is Sliding Scale Tuition?

Students with no wealthy parents often find higher education impossible to reach. Luckily, there are many programs to support these students and help them plan their finances for college.

One of the efforts done by many colleges, even online ones, today is sliding scale tuition programs. These programs give students from different economic backgrounds equal access to college.

Sliding scale tuition is a way for colleges to adjust the cost of education depending on how much money students or their families have. Here’s how it works:

  • If a student’s family has more money, they pay more for college. They usually pay the full price.
  • But if a family has less money, they pay less. They usually have discounts on tuition and fees.

It helps make college more accessible for students from all economic backgrounds.

Each college has its own set of criteria for granting sliding scale tuition.

Some will put students’ income in a bracket. Families earning below a certain threshold might qualify for reduced tuition rates or financial aid packages. The scale adjusts the cost of tuition and fees according to the family’s financial situation.

On the other hand, other schools will have a more holistic approach. They’ll assess student’s needs beyond their financial status. They’ll often include debts, family size, and dependents.

Various other factors can go into evaluation. In most cases, you’ll be required to submit the following documents to prove your financial need:

  • Tax returns or income statements from your family
  • Documentation of any government assistance received
  • Information about family size and dependents
  • Details on any loans or financial obligations

These documents help colleges figure out how much help you might need to pay for college. Make sure you gather and submit these papers accurately and on time. This will make sure you qualify for sliding scale tuition or other types of financial aid.

It’s a common misunderstanding that only affordable colleges offer sliding scale tuition models. Many expensive and prestigious schools also offer this tuition model along with other need-based assistance. Here are a few examples of prestigious schools that offer adjusted tuition programs:

InstitutionFinancial Aid Policy
Stanford University– Less than $100k: Tuition and housing & food are covered.
– $100K to $150K: Tuition is covered, and possibly more.
– Greater than $150K: Sliding scale of financial support.
Brown UniversityFamilies earning less than $60,000 annually with total assets below $100,000 get free tuition.
Columbia UniversityStudents with family income below $150,000 annually (including typical assets) are free of tuition.
Cornell UniversityFamilies with annual incomes below $60,000 (with typical assets considered) ensure that students graduate without any loans.
Dartmouth CollegeStudents whose families make less than $100,000 per year have free tuition, room, and board.


Why Choose an Online College with Sliding Scale Tuition?

More and more college students are choosing to complete their degrees online. In fact, online student enrollment is growing by an average of 10% each year. Online degree programs appeal to a diverse range of students for several compelling reasons.

  • Reduced costs

Online learning costs much less because you can take classes from anywhere, like your home or office. Plus, it eliminates the need for printed textbooks. According to the Education Data Initiative, textbooks are one of the biggest costs associated with higher education. On average, a college textbook costs about $105.37.

  • Flexible schedules

Online learning reduces stress for students by allowing flexible scheduling without long waiting lists or daily commutes to campus. It’s especially beneficial for students who need jobs to finance their college education.

  • Learn at your own pace

Given the flexibility of online learning, students learn at their own pace. Some students prefer flexibility in their study schedule and concentration. Online education is often ideal for many as it allows students to learn and attend lectures when they feel most focused.

Here are a few of the many sliding scale tuition benefits:

  • Increased ROI

Graduates of affordable online programs and sliding scale tuition have increased ROI. They often won’t need to take on as many student loans to pay for their education, which means no long-term debt weighing them down after they graduate. This financial advantage allows graduates to start their careers with more flexibility and less stress about paying off loans.

  • Promotes fairness and equal access to college

Although online college tuition can be cheaper than on-campus courses, it is still hefty for many students. Sliding-scale tuition helps students with limited financial resources gain access to college degrees through flexible tuition rates.

  • Enriches learning environment

Diversity is very important, whether in the classroom, the workplace, or society. A learning environment filled with students from different backgrounds fosters a more inclusive and dynamic educational experience.

This can also benefit students from high-income families. This opportunity allows them to talk and relate with low-income students on a more personal level, developing empathy and understanding of different economic backgrounds.

As for the institution…

The ‘pay what you can tuition’ allows the online college to establish a better reputation. As this tuition model renders education more affordable, the school attracts more students who might otherwise have been deterred by the high cost of tuition. This influx of students can lead to a more stable and financially sustainable institution. It can also help the online school compete for higher spots in college rankings.

5 Success Stories of Graduates

Sparky Abraham, The Transformative Power of Free Tuition

Abraham did not perform well in high school and had almost quit college due to financial constraints. He and his family did not have the means to pay for college tuition. Abraham successfully enrolled in a community college with the help of the California Board of Governors Fee Waiver, which covered tuition and book costs.

Maintaining a full-time job and living with his grandparents, he persisted through community college and eventually transferred to UCLA. At UCLA, he continued to receive free tuition entirely, allowing him to graduate debt-free.

Raquel Esteves-Joyce, Navigating Academia as a First-Generation Scholar

Raquel comes from a disadvantaged economic background. She is the first in her family to attend college and often finds the system unfamiliar and unwelcoming. Despite these challenges, Raquel persisted in their academic journey, demonstrating resilience and determination to challenge norms and redefine their educational experience.

Raquel graduated using Haverford College’s Low Income Student (FLI) Support and Programming. The free tuition eased the financial burden, allowing her to focus more on her studies and less on the stress of accumulating debt.

Jennifer Montgomery, BAS at 42

Jennifer Montgomery started her bachelor’s degree at 42. She balanced working full-time and raising three school-age children on her own. Originally, she studied social work at the University of Iowa but later switched to an online Bachelor of Liberal Studies program in Health and Human Studies because it was more flexible. Thanks to online education access, she’s now an executive assistant to the Iowa Department of Public Health director.

Michael Tubbs, the youngest mayor in Stockton, CA

Michael Tubbs grew up in a low-income neighborhood. Raised by a single mother, he faced economic challenges and had limited access to educational resources. With the help of Stanford University’s financial aid program, which provided free tuition and comprehensive support, Tubbs graduated in 2012 with a degree in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. Tubbs was the youngest mayor of Stockton, California, and has since been a prominent advocate for educational equity and economic empowerment.

Rafael Reif, one of the known MIT presidents

Rafael Reif immigrated to the United States from Venezuela, facing cultural and language barriers upon arrival. Coming from a modest background, Reif’s family struggled financially, making higher education inaccessible without significant financial aid. Reif attended MIT on a full scholarship that included free tuition. He earned a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and eventually became the president of MIT, leading initiatives in education, research, and innovation.


Financial aid programs like scholarships and grants are great ways to pay for college. However, to have a more manageable college experience as a low-income student, you should consider online colleges with sliding scale tuition programs. The combination of accessible online education and sliding-scale tuition programs can significantly alleviate your financial burdens while maintaining flexible schedules to work on other things.