Up to a third of Oregon's public high school seniors could attend community college for free next fall.

At the March 1 deadline, Oregon has received 16,502 applicants for the inaugural year of the "Oregon Promise" program, which will offer a community college education for just $50 a term.

The program, which is open to students who graduate or get a GED this spring, is designed to encourage low-income students to apply for the federal grants and aid they're already eligible for, with the state stepping in to fill in any gaps.

The Legislature—following the lead of Tennessee, the only other state with a free community college program—approved the program last year and set aside $10 million to serve an estimated 7,000 students.

The 16,502 applications will be reviewed this month to make sure kids meet eligibility requirements—students have to be residents of Oregon for 12 months before starting college, have a grade-point average of at least 2.5 and begin college within six months of their graduation or earning their GED.