Nearly one in four students from New Brunswick will qualify for free tuition this fall, under a new bursary designed to boost post-secondary enrollment in the province.

Starting in September, the provincial government will cover tuition fees for full-time university or college students who come from a household making less than $60,000 per year.

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant made the announcement Thursday.

“This is the beginning. We’re going to be looking for other ways to try and help ensure that university is accessible and affordable,” Gallant told reporters.

The bursary is designed to help boost post-secondary enrollment in the province, which has dwindled in recent years, while also helping students who struggle to afford tuition.

Approximately 23 per cent of current students, or 7,100 individuals, will immediately qualify for the program, the government said.

Students will only qualify for the bursary if they attend a publicly-funded university or college in New Brunswick.

Many low- to-middle-income students already have access to federal tuition grants, and the new bursary is designed to make up for the difference with provincial dollars.

The province will allot $25 million in the program’s first year.

The announcement was met with praise from students and educators.

“This is aimed exactly at the students who need the help the most,” said University of New Brunswick president Eddy Campbell.

“Us students have been walking around telling each other ‘Merry Christmas,’” said Megan Thomson of the St. Thomas University students’ union.

A Conservative MLA at the press conference lauded the bursary as “very good news” but questioned whether more will be done to help other students in need.

“It certainly benefits certain groups of students. I think there are other groups of students that are still waiting to hear what the good news is going to be for them,” said Brian MacDonald, MLA for Fredericton West-Hanwell.

In Nova Scotia, student activists reacted to the announcement by calling on the province to include more assistance to students in its upcoming budget.

“Nova Scotia students are looking to [Minister of Labour and Advanced Education] Kelly Regan and [Nova Scotia Premier] Stephen McNeil to say what are you going to do in this upcoming budget to ensure that we’re actually reducing tuition fees and working towards a smarter form of student assistance,” said Michaela Sam of the Canadian Federation of Students.

But Regan said the province already offers some of the best post-secondary assistance programs in Canada – they’re simply designed differently.

“The difference is, it appears that New Brunswick is paying up front. We pay upon completion,” Regan told reporters Thursday.

Regan added that Nova Scotia students who choose to study in their home province receive $1,000 off tuition up front.

The New Brunswick announcement comes several weeks after the Ontario government created a similar program offering free education to students from low-income families and more subsidies for students from middle-class families.

With files from CTV Atlantic