How to Find Free Money for Continuing Education

Scholarships are going unused—including some that are available only to NEA members. Enhancing your skills is less expensive than you think.

Smiling adult education student using a laptop in a classroom

by NEA Member Benefits

Back when President Barack Obama said that college costs and student debt have reached “crisis” proportions, it came as no surprise to educators.

The spiraling costs of higher education have created not only stress for students planning to attend college but also hurdles for educators who want to improve their skills and their standing with a graduate degree. 

Fortunately, NEA members can take advantage of several options to help defray the cost of further education and make a graduate degree more affordable.

Obtaining a scholarship is one of the most attractive financial options. Scholarship opportunities for NEA members are often offered through our education loan partners. Since these special scholarship programs and giveaways are not always available, it's important to check your email for updates from NEA Member Benefits and visit the website for new announcements throughout the year.

Other sources of financial aid

In addition to scholarship offerings, there are other kinds of financial aid available to NEA members who want to do graduate work.

Federally funded Pell Grants are intended primarily for undergraduates, but an exception is made for teachers seeking certification requirements. As the name indicates, these are full grants, not loans, so they don’t have to be repaid.

Although subsidized Stafford loans guaranteed by the federal government were eliminated for graduate and professional degrees, unsubsidized loans in the Federal Direct Student Loan Program are still available through individual schools.

College Ave Student Loans, another NEA partner, offers private loans on favorable terms. The NEA Student Loan programs can help pay college expenses both for a member’s graduate degree or for undergraduate degrees for family members.

There’s a wide variety of local private aids for teachers as well, ranging from tuition credits offered by Marquette University for Wisconsin teachers to programs funded by the Coca-Cola Foundation at Emory University and other schools.

Specialized tuition-for-service plans at the national and state level—providing tuition aid in exchange for a commitment to teach in underserved areas—are an additional source of funds as are scholarships specifically for ethnic minorities. See for details.

Colleges and universities often support grant programs for teachers who are in training or are working on a thesis or dissertation. Students should contact the financial aid adviser at the individual colleges about programs for which they may be eligible. Students pursuing teaching degrees in particular subjects should consult with the department head about special programs that might be available in that field.