Gaining admission to a college or university, then figuring out how to pay the resulting bills, are huge challenges for many families today.

Recent news demonstrates, however, that those seeking higher education need to take some extra steps to find the bargains and avoid institutions that leave their students with little but crushing debt.

Surely, no one wants to find themselves holding a degree (and loans) from an institution that’s being fined by the federal government and sued by state attorneys general, as is the case with the for-profit Corinthian College network.

At the other end of the spectrum, a family with limited means surely wouldn’t want to learn, too late, that their brilliant child could have received a free education at one of the nation’s best universities.

Such a family may not think of applying to Stanford University because the yearly cost starts at $60,500. But that family may not know that Stanford will waive tuition if they earn less than $125,000, and will also waive room-and-board if a family earns less than $65,000.

That’s becoming the norm at the nation’s top universities. Harvard, Yale and Princeton are among those that waive tuition and reduce or eliminate room-and-board charges for those with moderate incomes.

The trick, of course, would be gaining admittance to one of the world’s most selective learning institutions. So, what if your college-bound child has a more modest academic record?

For starters, if you’re a South Carolina resident, you may want to know that Georgia just decided that 10 public institutions in that state can charge in-state tuition for applicants from bordering states including South Carolina.

If any of those colleges would suit your needs, that’s a big deal, because Georgia’s in-state rates are generally lower than South Carolina’s (although in Georgia, South Carolina Lottery scholarships would not be available).

For example, this year (2014-15) the full-year cost of attending Valdosta State University — tuition and fees, room and board, and books — is an estimated $16,226 for in-state residents. The out-of-state rate is $29,122, but that’s no longer an issue for South Carolina residents.

The other nine institutions are: Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Albany State University, Armstrong State University, Bainbridge State College, College of Coastal Georgia, Darton State College, Georgia Southwestern State University, Savannah State University and South Georgia State College.

The in-state waivers are temporary, but students who enroll with a waiver get the in-state rate until they graduate.

Some of those institutions offer online education, as well as on-campus. Another reputable university known for online education is Arizona State University.

Arizona State is the institution Starbucks has partnered with to offer free four-year degrees to U.S. employees who work at least 20 hours a week (Starbucks reimburses employees for tuition and mandatory fees). How many food and beverage jobs will pay for your college education?

Each of the examples I’ve mentioned — free tuition at top schools, in-state rates in Georgia, tuition paid by Starbucks — are unusual ways of paying less, or nothing at all, to attend a not-for-profit college or university.

A pitfall that befell many education-seekers during the past several years was, instead of seeking out affordable but reputable institutions, students enrolled in costly for-profit schools with aggressive advertising campaigns.

Not all of those schools are bad, but some have come to be seen as institutions that vacuumed up federal aid dollars and provided students with little in return but debt.

It should go without saying, but choosing a college education based upon late-night TV ads or pitches that pop up on a website is a poor decision-making process.

The local community college, of course, offers an affordable option, and unlike some for-profit schools, the credits earned there can typically be transferred to other institutions.

College-ready students and their families have some research to do if they want the best education for their dollars. It’s a lot of work, but it’s just the sort of in-depth research project that a college-bound student should be able to tackle.