By Katy Hopkins

When it comes to getting free money for college, every little bit helps

Though tuitions are rising and government budgets for education programs have been slashed, there are still deals to be had at colleges across the country. With a little digging, students and parents may be able to uncover savings that will ease the financial burden of higher education, sometimes by thousands of dollars.

Colleges nationwide are implementing initiatives such as these to ease some costs of the college experience:

1. Save on tuition:

Little-known ways to save on tuition exist for students and families willing to hunt for the benefits. Guaranteed tuition programs are one route for parents and students to consider, as they offer predictable and often attractive tuition rates, sometimes geared to specific demographics. At the University of Texas -- Dallas , for example, in-state students pay a set tuition price for up to 12 consecutive semesters (four years with the option to take summer courses) through the school's Guaranteed Tuition Rate Plan. Especially motivated Texas residents get an extra benefit: Since the program charges hourly for up to 15 credit hours a semester, any additional credit classes can be taken for free. "What happens is that you have an incentive to graduate sooner," notes Jenni Huffenberger, assistant director for communications at UT -- Dallas.

Conversely, the University of Colorado-Boulder guarantees a flat tuition rate for four years to its out-of-state undergraduates. Regional tuition breaks are another typically obscure source of funding for out-of-state students; programs are offered to students in almost every state for studying in the same region they live, and can save families thousands of dollars in tuition.

2. Save on campus visits:

For students who'd like to venture further afield, some schools reward families who have a long trek to visit the school. At Drexel University in Philadelphia, prospective freshmen and transfer students who live at least 150 miles away and still pay a visit to campus are eligible to recoup up to $500 of their travel costs, should they later be accepted and choose to attend the school.

Other schools reward students who visit with a tuition break. It doesn't matter how near or far you live to Loyola University New Orleans ; every student who makes an official campus visit is now awarded a one-time, $1,000 tuition discount if they later enroll. Because the school has recent renovations to showcase, and since about 60 percent of its student body hails from more than 500 miles away, the administration wanted to incentivize a pre-college visit, says Keith Gramling, director of enrollment management.

"It's important for students coming from so far away to get a chance to really experience both Loyola and New Orleans for themselves," Gramling says. "We've seen a dramatic increase in our campus visits."

3. Save on books:

Campus visits can also pay off in other areas of paying for college, at least at the University of Dayton . The Ohio institution recently rolled out a new offer to prospective students: Visit campus, fill out the FAFSA, get accepted -- and then get four years of textbooks for free. For the university, it's a way to market itself with a unique, tangible benefit for students and parents.

"Today's parents are savvy and skeptical, and they have too many college choice options," says Sundar Kumarasamy, vice president for enrollment management at the University of Dayton. "We said, 'OK, we cannot just have a college tour with a coffee mug and a t-shirt giveaway' -- we wanted to have a very significant incentive."

The new initiative will give students who buy books on campus up to $4,000 through college, or $500 a semester. Since the offer requires a family to first fill out the FAFSA, it's also a way to ensure prospective students exhaust federal options to pay for college, since, Kumarasamy says, many families mistakenly believe they're too well off to receive benefits after filling out the FAFSA.

4. Save on housing:

Though not living on campus can save students thousands in ever-increasing room and board costs, school initiatives can make paying for university housing a more attractive option. At Cleveland State University , students are now eligible for $5,100 scholarships each year if they have solid grades and live in on-campus or university-sanctioned housing. Known as the Freshman Scholars program, the two-year old initiative has helped to trigger more campus life in an academic community where about 80 percent of students commute, according to Rob Spademan, assistant vice president of University Marketing and Admissions.

"It's a definite inducement to students who might have commuted or might have stayed around the campus," CSU's Spademan says.

Students can renew the scholarships for up to four years, provided they maintain at least a 3.0 GPA and stay in university housing. For a student who graduates on time, that equates to a savings of $20,400.

"The cost of higher education is becoming a bigger and bigger challenge for parents and students alike," Spademan says. "[Four years of the Freshman Scholars program] ends up being about a 35 percent incentive off tuition -- and I can tell you, that gets the attention of parents who are trying to figure out how to pay for this."

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Colleges Offer Hidden Savings to Students