The largest university in Detroit plans to offer free tuition to students who graduate from any city high school.

Wayne State’s decision to waive tuition for Detroit graduates could be life-changing for hundreds of students every year.

While they will still face some costs, those students and their families won’t have to worry about covering the roughly $11,000-a-year tuition.

The program, called the Heart of Detroit Tuition Pledge, was announced on Wednesday at an event attended by Mayor Mike Duggan and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. It applies to students who start at Wayne State in fall 2020 or after.

Duggan said it would “help open the doors to a world class education to even more Detroiters at a highly respected university.”

The rising price of college is one reason Detroit children face a rocky path to a college degree, virtually a requirement for prosperity in today’s economy.

In 2017, 2,662 student graduated from high school in the Detroit Public Schools Community District, which enrolls about half of the students in the city. A year later, 28% had completed the first year of college, compared to 40% statewide. 

Of those graduates, 157 were enrolled at Wayne State.

Wayne State President M. Roy Wilson said in a statement that the new plan would help more Detroit students obtain college degrees.

“Opportunity, accessibility and affordability are all pillars of the high quality education we provide, and the Heart of Detroit Tuition Pledge delivers on all those values,” he said. 

To qualify for the tuition waiver, students must live in Detroit and have graduated from any school in the city, including charter, private, parochial schools, and homeschooled students.

They also have to be accepted at Wayne State, which typically admits students with an ACT score above 21 and an SAT math score above 500.

There are no income requirements for the tuition waiver, but students must first apply for financial aid and federal Pell grants. Wayne State will pay for whatever tuition costs aren’t covered by other programs.

Chrystal Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Detroit Public Schools Community District, said the district is working to “increase the number of students who meet college readiness standards. We are aligning our work and outcomes to the Detroit Promise and programs such as the Heart of Detroit to enable more students to pass the SAT and be prepared for college.”

Challenging academic requirements have limited the impact of the Detroit Promise, a scholarship program that covers tuition for Detroit high school graduates in Detroit.

The Wayne State tuition waiver doesn’t cover books, food, or housing. Books and other supplies cost $1,196 a year on average, according to Wayne State’s website. If Detroit students don’t have the option of living at home, room and board at the university costs more than $10,000.

Still, education leaders said they have little doubt that the new program will make a difference.

Mark Ornstein, CEO of University Prep Schools, one of the largest charter networks in Detroit, said “the faculty and staff at U Prep will do all we can to help our students prepare to receive this life-changing gift.”