COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — As the Fall 2022 semester is in full swing, NBC4 sat down with The Ohio State University President Dr. Kristina Johnson to discuss the debt-free degree program the university is piloting this fall.

The Scarlet and Gray Advantage Program was announced by OSU last November. This fall, it is piloting the program with 125 incoming freshmen.

While the program is aimed at providing a debt-free degree Johnson is very clear that this does not mean a tuition-free degree or free college education.

“This is not free tuition and this is not free college but what it is, it is a pathway to go from where you are to graduating without debt and that’s the key,” Johnson said.

According to Johnson, 47% of OSU graduates leave college with debt that could change their path following their studies.

“People graduate with that debt, students are going to make different choices like they may not go to graduate school, they may not be able to buy a house, start a family,” said Johnson. “Or follow their passion with the career because it may not be pay enough to cover the debt as well as living.”

So how does the program work to give students a debt-free education? Johnson explained it’s a pathway program that gives students scholarships, internships, and employment opportunities, something the university is hoping to offer all students within the next 10 years.

“In 10 years, I want every student the opportunity to have a pathway towards debt free,” said Johnson. “Does it mean that every student will graduate debt free? Probably not. But on average, the debt will be extremely low.”

This fall, 125 students from different backgrounds have been selected to pilot the program.

Johnson said the students were picked at random and the hope is to better understand the needs of students from different backgrounds to provide all OSU students a pathway to debt free.

“It will give us the statistics that will allow us then to plan the pathway for each of those groups,” said Johnson.

So how will this program be funded? The estimated cost needed is $800 million over the next decade. Of this $800 million, Johnson said $300 million will come from cumulative annual giving, while the other $500 million will come from endowments.

The minimum endowment OSU accepts is $100,000. “So that’s what we’re looking at is, how many Buckeyes can contribute at least $100,000 to help the next generation go debt free,” said Johnson.

The OSU president said the university has surpassed last year’s goal of raising $57 million for both current use and the endowment and hit $98 million. Johnson said this means OSU is well on its way to accomplishing the philanthropic side of this funding.