Starting next fall, incoming first-time Kentucky freshmen could be able to attend Western Kentucky University tuition-free, the school announced Thursday.

In-state students who fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid — better known as a FAFSA — get a federal Pell Grant and have an unweighted high school GPA of at least a 3.0 will be eligible to get free tuition at the Bowling Green campus in a scholarship called the “Hilltopper Gurantee.”

“The WKU experience is transformative, and our mission calls us to provide access to all students, including those who thought a college degree was out of reach,” WKU President Timothy C. Caboni said in a release. “The bold changes we made to scholarships last year significantly expanded the aid available. This pledge closes the gap for the most financially challenged students and will allow those students access to the life-changing WKU Experience.”

Students enrolling for the fall 2021 semester will be the first eligible for the scholarship. The exact amount of the scholarship would vary by student. Pell Grant, scholarships from the university or private sources and Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship — typically called KEES — funds would be subtracted from the cost of tuition first, and the university would fill in the rest.

The scholarship can be renewed for up to four years. It does not cover the cost of housing or books and other supplies.

This school year, in-state students pay $5,401 per semester before financial aid. Students who aren’t eligible for Pell Grants — federal money given to student with financial needs — are not eligible for the scholarship.

Federal data show that just under 35% of undergraduate students who went to the nearly 5,900 eligible institutions nationally received Pell Grants in the 2017-2018 school year, the latest available year. On average they received $4,271. In that same school year, 2,237 WKU students received a federal grant or scholarship, data from Kentucky’s Council for Postsecondary Education shows.

This school year, Pell Grant recipients can get a maximum of $6,345 spread over two semesters.

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