Thousands of Minnesotans could receive free college tuition under a new program launching in the fall of 2024.

State lawmakers created the North Star Promise program while negotiating a budget deal last month that boosts funding for higher education efforts across the state. Advocates and legislative leaders called it a historic session, noting that similar efforts had failed in the past.

"We really think this is a game changer for students and their families," said Mike Dean, executive director of LeadMN, an organization representing students at two-year institutions in the Minnesota State system of colleges and universities.

The program will roll out at a time when many of the state's colleges and universities are facing enrollment declines and bracing for the possibility that recruitment could become even more difficult in the coming years, due in part to declines in birthrates.

State officials estimate that about 15,000 Minnesota residents will benefit from the funding, which aims to provide students with a chance to graduate debt-free from a public college or university. Here's what we know about the program and how it will work.

Who qualifies for the program?

The North Star Promise program will be available to Minnesota residents who enroll in a public college or university within the state. That includes schools within the Minnesota State system of colleges and universities, the University of Minnesota system and tribal colleges.

The student's family must have an adjusted gross income of less than $80,000. The student must also meet several academic qualifications: They must be taking at least one credit, have not yet earned a baccalaureate degree and must show "satisfactory academic progress."

The scholarship will cover up to 60 credits toward a certificate or an associate degree, or up to 120 credits toward a bachelor's degree. The scholarship is paid directly to the institution where the student is enrolled.

The Minnesota Office of Higher Education plans to launch a website in the coming weeks that provides more details. It also suggests that students who have questions about their eligibility contact their school's financial aid office.

What does the program cover?

The program covers tuition and fees after other grants and scholarships have been counted toward the bill. Tuition and fees in the Minnesota State system typically run about $6,100 to $9,900, depending on the institution. Tuition at the U's Twin Cities campus is slated to run nearly $14,500, under the latest budget proposal.

The law that created the program prohibits public colleges and universities from reducing the amount of "institutional gift aid" they provide to students who are also eligible for this scholarship, starting in the 2024-25 school year.

How do students apply?

There is no specific application for this program. The Minnesota Office of Higher Education says that students who complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or Minnesota Dream Act Application — both of which are currently used to apply for aid — will be considered for the program.

Who pays for the program, and how much does it cost?

The state — and ultimately taxpayers — cover the program. The budget deal includes roughly $117 million to set up the program and estimates it will cost nearly $50 million a year after that.

The state Office of Higher Education will be required to produce a report about the program and the educational progress of scholarship recipients, starting in 2025.