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5 Colleges You Can Go to for Free

Christina Couch

It's all too easy to be a victim of student debt. According to the College Board, the average price of tuition, fees, room and board for an in-state student at a public college or university is $17,860 for the 2012-13 school year.

For out-of-state students, average costs jump to $30,911 while private nonprofit colleges charged $39,518 on average for a single year of education. With sticker prices skyrocketing, it's no shock that student debt levels and loan default rates are up.

The good news is that you don't have to be a victim. These tuition-free or tuition-reduced schools are easy on the wallet and high on value.

1. The Cooper Union

Location: New York City

Tuition price: Free tuition for all students. Students do have to pay for housing, lab fees and a $775 student fee per semester.

Value: $38,550 per year

How they do it: The Cooper Union eliminates nonessential student amenities and is funded partly through real estate income. Students don't have an on-campus gym or student activities building, but the school does own myriad real estate investments, including the Chrysler Building, a property that generates more than $7 million in rent each year. The school's approximately $600 million endowment helps cover the rest.

2. College of the Ozarks

Location: Point Lookout, Mo.

Tuition price: Free, not including room and board

Value: $17,900 per year

How they do it: College of the Ozarks puts students to work. To reduce the cost of hiring outside labor, the College of the Ozarks requires all students to work 15 hours per week on campus and two 40-hour work weeks during the school year in positions ranging from landscaping to administrative jobs. Any grant or scholarship money students receive through other sources is also applied to tuition costs, and all remaining tuition is covered by the school's more than $350 million endowment. Students may cover the cost of room and board out of pocket or work it off through the Summer Work Program.

Others like it
: The other four-year work colleges in the U.S. -- Deep Springs College, Alice Lloyd College, Berea College, Blackburn College, Sterling College, Ecclesia College and Warren Wilson College -- have similar business models, though Alice Lloyd College and Berea College are the only others that offer totally free tuition. Deep Springs College in Inyo County, Calif., also offers free tuition as the country's only two-year work college.

3. United States Coast Guard Academy

Location: New London, Conn.

Tuition price: Free

Value: $98,200 per year

How they do it: The Coast Guard Academy is funded through the government. The annual value figure covers costs associated with cadet instructional activities, student activities and institutional activities (which include cadet salaries, education, room and board, summer training, etc.).

Others like it: The Coast Guard Academy, along with the four other federally funded service institutions -- The U.S. Naval Academy, the Merchant Marine Academy, the Air Force Academy and the Military Academy -- all provide free tuition, though some require students to pay certain fees. After graduation, Coast Guard grads are required to serve for at least five years. Service requirements at other academies range from five to eight years .

4. Webb Institute

Location: Glen Cove, N.Y.

Tuition price: Tuition is free for all admitted U.S. citizens and green card holders. This does not include room and board.

Value: $41,500 per year

How they do it: The Webb Institute finds much of its funding through endowments, but it also saves money by only offering a few select majors. At this engineering college, all students double major in naval architecture and marine engineering and all take on a "winter work" internship every year that provides them with real-world experience in the maritime industry. The result is an extremely focused education that lands jobs for 100 percent of Webb's graduating class.

Others like it: The Webb Institute isn't the only school that saves money by limiting its academic offerings. Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and Barclay College in Haviland, Kan., both provide full-time students with a scholarship for all four years. Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Mass., provides half-tuition scholarships for all students.

5. Macaulay Honors College

Location: New York City

Tuition: It's free for in-state residents. All Macaulay enrollees also receive a laptop and $7,500 in "opportunity funds" that can be used for research projects, study abroad programs, internships and service initiatives.

Value: $5,430 per year for in-state students

How they do it: Limited to the creme de la creme of students, Macaulay Honors College is part of a much broader City University of New York college network. Students here not only receive financial help with their studies, they also get the opportunity to enroll in classes on any of CUNY's 23 institutions throughout the Big Apple.

Others like it: Many schools waive tuition or provide full-ride scholarships for top academic performers, though eligibility requirements vary between institutions. Dallas Baptist University, for instance, offers full scholarships for national merit finalists who pass certain requirements; Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, doles out free rides to students in the top 5 percent of their class who pass a personal interview and score at least 1400 on the critical reading and math sections of the SATs or 31 on the ACTs. Weatherford College in Weatherford, Texas, also grants a one-year full-tuition scholarship to valedictorians from accredited Texas high schools.