Three-story red brick building on a green lawn, with "Radford University" sign in front.
The campus of Radford University. Photo by Lisa Rowan.

Radford University is the latest Virginia college to announce a program to guarantee tuition for some students.

The state university announced Wednesday that the Radford Tuition Promise will cover tuition for in-state, undergraduate, in-person students with an adjusted household income of $100,000 or less. 

The program will be available to new and returning students starting in fall 2024, and can be used at any Radford campus. Transfer students are also eligible for the program.

In-state tuition for full-time students for the 2023-2024 academic year is just over $12,000. 

To apply, students must submit an application for federal student aid (known as the FAFSA), meet the income requirement and have a student aid index, or SAI, of less than $15,000. Students learn their SAI after filling out the FAFSA application, which calculates how much federal aid the student would receive at a particular school.

Students can renew their tuition promise as long as they remain in good academic standing and fill out an annual FAFSA application.

“The Radford Tuition Promise has the potential to affect over half of our current students who file a FAFSA, as well as significant numbers of prospective students,” Radford President Bret Danilowicz said in a statement Wednesday. “This will make a difference for families and students with the most need, but also those from middle-class households across Virginia.”

The tuition program does not cover room and board. On-campus housing for 2023-2024 ranges from $5,000 to $9,000 per year, and meal plans cost between $1,000 and $5,500 annually. Students must also pay a mandatory comprehensive fee of $3,765 that goes toward athletics and recreation, student health and transportation. 

At least 20 states have some sort of statewide college promise program, according to the Education Commission of the States. Virginia doesn’t have a statewide program, but various colleges and universities have elected to offer promise programs to attract in-state students amid a declining college-age population.

Radford has struggled to maintain its enrollment, which 10 years ago stood at just under 10,000. This fall, the total headcount estimate was less than 7,500. The school hopes to boost interest under Danilowicz, who is in his second year as president, via partnerships with community colleges along with a rebranding effort announced in October.

Ferrum College, a private school in Franklin County, announced a similar program in April, though its financial requirements are more stringent than Radford’s — Ferrum expects most recipients will have household incomes of less than $50,000. Students participating in what Ferrum has dubbed the Panther Promise program must live on campus, which costs about $13,000 per academic year. 

At Virginia State University, a historically Black college in Petersburg, students can qualify for free tuition if they live within 25 miles of campus. Students must be eligible for the Pell grant, which is federal aid reserved for college applicants from low-income households.

And the University of Richmond announced a promise program in 2014 to cover tuition, housing and meals for students from some low-income households. 

Most promise programs are last-dollar offers, meaning grants and other forms of gift aid are first applied to a student’s tab. Though students may still need to rely on loans to cover room and board, the programs can reduce the amount of student loan debt they carry upon graduation. 

A 2020 study of the Tennessee Promise program for community college students — the first statewide tuition promise program in the nation — found that first-time student loan borrowing decreased by 40%. 

Lisa Rowan is education reporter for Cardinal News. She can be reached at or 540-384-1313.