CLAYTON, Mo. — A small university in Missouri is creating a tuition-free option for low-income students at the private school.

Fontbonne University announced Tuesday that it’s partnering with donors to create a program called the Fontbonne Promise, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported .

Beginning in fall 2018, incoming freshmen who have an estimated family contribution of zero dollars after filing federal financial aid forms will be eligible for the program. The program is only for new students who are eligible for the Pell Grant, which is a full federal need-based award.

University tuition is currently just less than $25,500 a year. Fontbonne President Mike Pressimone said the St. Louis school plans to have individual donors cover about $8,500 per year after the Pell Grant covers nearly $6,000 per year. The university will discount the rest of the tuition balance.

The program won’t cover the cost of room and board, which is nearly $10,000.

The program will start with 30 students and plans to grow. Pressimone said a similar program exists at the University of Missouri in Columbia, but students “aren’t likely to get up from St. Louis, South City or North County and drive two hours away. They have obligations that are keeping them here.”

Tuesday’s announcement was largely well-received with a few exceptions, said Joseph Havis, vice president of enrollment.

“There are some folks with concerns about free opportunities and what does that mean in the current political climate,” Havis said. “We see this as the right mission decision to move forward with. … If we’re advocating for our community’s neediest, that’s the right side to be on.”

Havis said that while the school has already recruited a handful of donors, the real fundraising push begins now.

“I think education is what changes lives in this country,” he said. “These are region-changing opportunities.”

Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch,

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