PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — State leaders and Rhode Island College students and staff gathered Wednesday to celebrate the launch of a new pilot program that will provide free tuition to eligible students.

Gov. Dan McKee held a ceremonial bill-signing for the Hope Scholarship.

The primarily state-funded program will cover in-state students’ tuition for their junior and senior years at RIC. It’s open to both new and current students.

McKee said the goal is to make sure finances aren’t the reason that students don’t finish their education.

“How many of those colleges that are out there can say they are providing a full scholarship for juniors and seniors to ensure that they graduate and start off professional lives with less debt?” he asked.

“Put simply, the Hope Scholarship is a win for students,” McKee added.

RIC President Jack Warner said the scholarship gives Rhode Islanders the chance to get a bachelor’s degree for about $25,000, which he believes will boost graduation rates and help the state’s economy.

“A more highly educated population improves the tax base, improves the quality of life for Rhode Islanders, reduces reliance on public assistance and a whole host of other benefits,” he explained.

To be eligible, students must be enrolled full time and have at least a 2.5 GPA, along with a sufficient number of credits toward their field of study. In addition, those who qualify must commit to live, work, or continue their education in Rhode Island after graduation.

Those who received two years of free tuition at CCRI through the Rhode Island Promise Scholarship are not eligible for the Hope Scholarship.

The pilot program will end with the 2026 graduating class unless it’s extended or codified into state law.