Ohio State University says it will boost its financial aid awards to cover the full cost of tuition and mandatory fees for low- and moderate-income students.

Students who qualify for Pell grants, a federal program for students with financial need, will receive an aid package that covers any gap that remains after Pell grants, Ohio College Opportunity Grants and other gift aid, the university said in a news release this week.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, about 90 percent of Pell recipients have family incomes of $50,000 or less.

“This historic step in Ohio State’s strategic focus on access, affordability and excellence will expand aid for an estimated 3,500 in-state students,” Ohio State said.

The university said it expects to spend more than $11 million annually on the program. The cost will be funded largely through an endowment created from proceeds of the Comprehensive Energy Management partnership, Ohio State said.

Ohio State entered into a 50-year deal in March with French energy company ENGIE and Axium Infrastructure of Canada.

Under the deal, the university received a $1.015 billion upfront payment and Ohio State pays the companies about $55 million annually in fees to manage central systems that heat, cool and power the school’s Columbus campus.

The university also received a $150 million commitment to support academics in specific areas.

Ohio State said it will begin offering the financial assistance to qualifying new, existing and transfer students on the Columbus campus in fall 2018.

The university said it is also developing a program to enhance financial aid for Pell students on its regional campuses.

Current in-state tuition and mandatory fees on the Columbus campus total $10,591 annually for first-year students in the Ohio State Tuition Guarantee and $10,037 annually for continuing students.

Several “free college” programs have been launched nationwide in recent years, Mamie Voight, vice president of policy research at the Institute for Higher Education Policy in Washington, told the Columbus Dispatch.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill allows its lowest-income students to attend debt-free, using grants, scholarships and work-study programs, the Dispatch reported. The University of Michigan also announced this year it will cover the full cost of in-state tuition for four years to undergraduates with a family income of less than $65,000.

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com. You can follow her @KatieByardABJ on Twitter or on Facebook at www.facebook.com.