Starting next fall, attendance at Western Kentucky University will be tuition-free to any college freshman from Kentucky receiving Pell Grant assistance and with at least a 3.0 unweighted high school grade-point average.

Called the “Hilltopper Guarantee,” WKU President Timothy Caboni announced the aid expansion Thursday.

He described it as a lifeline for students from low-income households aimed at offering upward mobility.

“All they have to do is perform in high school, get that 3.0 (GPA) and WKU is in their future,” Caboni said during a news conference.

There will be no cap on the number of available awards for college freshmen who meet the criteria, Caboni said.

“For us to be competitive in the new economy, people need four-year degrees. We need to make sure every person who wants a four-year degree has access to WKU and the education – the experience – that we afford them,” Caboni said.

The amount of the award will be determined by in-state aid, such as need-based Pell Grants, Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship awards and other institutional aid, a news release announcing the change said. It doesn’t include student loans, which may be put toward the cost of housing, books and other expenses, the release said.

To qualify, students must have the Free Application for Federal Student Aid on file and accept financial aid. The scholarship is renewable for four years, provided the student meets minimum academic requirements.

The aid expansion builds off previous efforts to extend financial aid to the university’s neediest students, including a capital campaign to raise $40 million for its Opportunity Fund.

In September 2019, WKU said it would no longer use ACT scores to award most of its academic merit-based and targeted scholarships for incoming freshmen. The university also made an additional $5.2 million in scholarship support available by expanding offers to high school students with an unweighted GPA of 3.0 or higher, down from the previous bar of a 3.3 GPA.

The minimum award amount for those scholarships increased from $1,500 to $2,500 per year.

“If you have a 3.0, and you apply to WKU, you are automatically eligible for a $2,500 scholarship, and that grows as your GPA goes up,” Caboni said at the time.

On Thursday, Caboni said those scholarship changes helped WKU recruit the largest freshman class it’s seen in decades and with the highest average GPA in the university’s history. The percentage of WKU freshmen receiving scholarship aid has rocketed from 39 percent to 84 percent this fall.

WKU’s efforts to grow its scholarship program, Caboni said Thursday, produced “historic results for this fall’s class, with over 450 new freshmen because of that investment.”

“For (high school) seniors in Kentucky, I want you to hear this: If you want to come to WKU, and you don’t come from a rich background, we’re here for you. We want you on our Hill if you want to be part of the WKU family,” Caboni said.

– More information is available online at guarantee.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit

Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.