Image: Graduation cap © Brand X Pictures, Photolibrary, PHOTOLIBRARY GROUP LTD

News about college tuition is rarely good. As schools continue to raise prices, students are taking on an increasing amount of debt.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency created to help consumers understand financial products and services, student loan debt currently tops $1 trillion. Research from the Project on Student Debt, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to higher education, finds that one in 10 students graduates with $40,000 or more in undergraduate debt.

Even if you're not a straight-A student, an all-star athlete or inclined to apply for some of the world's strangest scholarships, you can still find programs that will pay the college tab for you. Here are eight reasons someone else might pay your tuition:

1. You attend an 'automatic scholarship' school

Students at Macaulay Honors College, part of the City University of New York system, don't stress about the high price of tuition. That's because theirs is free. At Macaulay and a handful of other service academies, work colleges, single-subject schools and conservatories, every student receives a full merit-based tuition scholarship for all four years. Macaulay students also receive a laptop and $7,500 in "opportunities funds" to pursue research, service experiences, study abroad programs and internships.

"The most important thing is not the free tuition, but the freedom of studying without the burden of debt on your back," says Ann Kirschner, the university dean of Macaulay. The debt burden, she says, "really compromises decisions students make in college, and we are giving them the opportunity to be free of that."

Schools that grant free tuition to all students are rare, but institutions increasingly provide automatic aid to enrollees with high grades. Such institutions as Indiana University Bloomington, Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., and the University of Kentucky in Lexington all offer automatic awards to high-performing students with stellar GPAs and class ranks. Residency requirements may apply.

2. Your family financially qualifies

Low-income families automatically qualify for some federal financial aid, but many schools step in to fill the remaining gap. At Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, Calif., all undergrads in the liberal arts program whose families earn $60,000 per year or less receive free tuition, a value of $27,214 for the 2012-2013 school year. Families still have to foot room and board charges.

"The maximum (federal) Pell Grant is right around $5,500 . . . that's not enough to meet most tuitions at private universities across the country," says Soka director of enrollment services Andrew Woolsey.

Soka's not alone. Columbia University in New York and Texas A&M University in College Station both offer 100% free tuition for families with adjusted gross incomes of less than $60,000. Harvard University offers free rides to those with family incomes of $65,000 or less. Among the 1,171 institutions that provide information to U.S. News & World Report for their annual college rankings issue, the magazine reports that 62 meet 100% of enrollees' financial needs. To find out a school's policy on meeting need, call the institution's financial aid office.

3. You have native roots

Since 2010, approximately 2,400 students in Michigan have attended college for free through the state's Native American tuition waiver program, says Melissa Claramunt, American Indian and civil rights specialist for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Available to state residents who are at least one-quarter Native American and enrolled in a federally recognized tribe, the waiver absolves eligible students from paying tuition at any two- or four-year public in-state institution.

Claramunt adds that a few states offer tuition waiver programs for Native American students, but that even more individual institutions may offer waivers or special financial aid for indigenous students, including Eskimo and Aleut, as well as those hailing from historically disadvantaged backgrounds.

"It is worth (a student's) while to look into individual tuition waivers," she says. "It always would behoove a student to check into programs for certain populations or certain types of student."

Students from these backgrounds may also find additional financial help through the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and the American Indian College Fund.

Click here to become a fan of MSN Money on Facebook

More from Bankrate: