By Kyra Gurney

For students whose families can't afford to help pay for college, Florida International University is making a promise: The school will pick up the tab.

FIU has launched a new program guaranteeing incoming freshmen that if their parents can't help with tuition, the university will cover any gaps in financial aid through four years of college.

The goal of the program, dubbed the Golden Promise, is to help low-income students earn a college degree without going into debt, FIU said in a statement. To qualify, students have to be Florida residents whose expected family contribution on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is listed as zero. In most cases, this means their family makes less than $33,000 a year, according to the university.

"FIU's Golden Promise removes economic barriers for students who are academically qualified and ready to work hard at FIU," FIU President Mark Rosenberg said in a statement. "We want them to be successful and graduate in four years."

The university predicts that 1,200 freshmen will qualify for the program in 2017.

Miami Dade College has a similar program, called the American Dream Scholarship, that covers tuition costs for the first two years that are not covered by financial aid and other scholarships. Students have to graduate from high school or get a GED in Miami-Dade County and meet certain academic requirements to qualify.

Even when they don't cover room and board, programs like these can make college more accessible for low-income students, said Troy Miller, the associate director for Research and Policy at the Florida College Access Network, a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization.

"Money should never be the reason why students decide not to go to college," he said. "For students throughout the state, especially students in South Florida, knowing they have a major university right in their backyard that will meet their needs is very powerful."

Nationwide, other universities have made similar promises to students with financial need. Stanford University announced in 2015 that students whose parents earn less than $65,000 a year would not have to pay anything for tuition, room or board, for example.

(c)2017 Miami Herald