Getting a $121,000 college education for free

(Moneywatch) While college prices continue to rise, there is one small college in Ohio that has been giving all its students in its last three freshman classes a four-year, full-tuition scholarship.

Antioch College in Yellow Springs, which has a storied history as well as a rocky past, plans to extend its free tuition offer one last time to admitted students who are applying during the current admission season. Students who are admitted for the 2014-2015 school year will receive the four-year, tuition-free package that's worth at least $121,000.

There is a reason for Antioch's generosity. Offering free tuition is a way to help the college recover from a disastrous fall. The trustees of the school, which abolitionists founded in 1850, voted to shut it down in 2008 after years of mismanagement and a dwindling student body. An account in The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2007 noted that buildings were crumbling, many walls were marred by graffiti while bottles and cigarettes littered the campus.

The liberal arts college, however, enjoyed a fiercely devoted alumni base that lobbied to reopen the school and aggressive fundraising helped make that happen.

What hasn't changed since Antioch reopened is the school's continuing commitment to social justice, as well as its college co-op program, which has become a popular offering on other college campuses as the focus has been trained more heavily on job preparation. Antioch, which has been offering co-op opportunities for 90 years, requires its student to work in a co-op setting for four quarters during their college years. Students are currently working at co-ops in such places at the Santa Fe Art Institute, a social justice nonprofit in New Orleans, a Hopi reservation in Arizona and an employment law firm in New York.

Qualifying for free tuition

Getting accepted into Antioch won't be easy. During the last three admission cycles, the acceptance rates have been approximately 20 percent, five percent and 17 percent. Last year roughly 900 students applied for a total of 90 freshman spots.

The average freshman earned a 3.62 unweighted GPA during high school and received an average ACT score of 26 and an average SAT score of 1750. Antioch, however, has no minimum GPA requirement and is a test-optional school so mediocre test scores don't have to be a deal breaker.

So what kind of student is Antioch looking for? Shane Creepingbear, an Antioch admission counselor, told me the school is looking for students who value multicultural experiences and who are interested in social justice.

"Antioch is for those students who want more than a normal college experience seeking a degree," Creepingbear said. "Students at Antioch are responsible for being active in helping to shape our curriculum, community and co-op for generations of Antiochians to come."