ST. LOUIS — Washington University, in St. Louis, will provide a free education to any student from Missouri or southern Illinois whose family income is under $75,000.

Andrew Martin, the university’s new chancellor, announced the program Thursday during his inaugural address, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The program, called the WashU Pledge, begins next fall. It will pay the tuition, room and board costs for full-time undergraduates who meet the financial requirements. About 250 qualifying students who are already enrolled will also receive the award package. The university said the package is valued at about $75,000 annually.

“When all individuals have the same opportunities to thrive and flourish, all of us serve to benefit,” Martin said.

Some other universities have similar programs, but Washington University’s is among the most generous.

Students at Rice University in Houston with family incomes under $65,000 receive tuition, room and board and fees. Other universities offer free tuition-only programs. The Washington University program will include living expenses and does not have a work-study requirement.

“This is huge on a national level and huge for St. Louis,” said Debbie Greenberg, of the College Bound program for low-income students. “This truly levels the playing field.”

Martin is the university’s 15th chancellor. He has expressed a commitment to racial and socioeconomic equity. One of his first moves as chancellor in January was to create startup grants for low-income students to get laptops, books, winter clothes and other supplies, said Ronné Patrick Turner, vice provost for admissions and financial aid.

University data shows that about 15% of this year’s freshman class of 1,744 students is eligible for a federal Pell grant, indicating a low-income family, up from about 5% in 2012. Many of those students already receive generous financial aid packages, Turner said.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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