(TNS) — Texas A&M University and Alamo Colleges announced Thursday the launch of a joint program designed to make the university’s engineering degrees more affordable to low-income students.

The students of the Texas A&M-Chevron Engineering Academy at Alamo Colleges will be considered Aggies, but the partnership with four community college districts will cut costs by allowing community college students to complete the first two years of coursework at their own institution, co-enrolled at both schools.

“This isn’t a traditional transfer program. It’s not a distance education program. The academy students are accepted into and enrolled in the College of Engineering at Texas A&M College Station since day one. They’re one of us,” said Katherine Banks, dean of the university’s College of Engineering.

It will start in fall 2016, part of the university’s effort to increase the number of minority students pursuing engineering degrees, officials said.

“It allows us to recruit Hispanic kids from here, from Brownsville and different places, and make sure that our colleges of engineering, and our university, look like the state of Texas,” said John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, who attended an announcement in San Antonio and was headed to similar events at community college districts in Brownsville, Houston and Dallas.

About 25 percent of the freshman class entering this fall at Texas A&M are Mexican-American students, “a huge jump from several years ago,” Sharp said.

At the university’s College of Engineering, about 22 percent of students enrolled in 2014-15 come from underrepresented groups, including Hispanics, African-Americans and Native Americans, officials said.

Chevron will back the program with $5 million, officials said. The academy will enroll full-time Alamo Colleges students in classes taught by Texas A&M faculty at community college tuition. The savings could amount to about $3,600 per semester, or $14,400 over the course of two years, a Texas A&M spokeswoman said.

Students will then have to manage how to fund their remaining years at the university, which could be an issue for those who come from low-income families.

Karan Watson, provost and executive vice president of Texas A&M University, said the school is planning a campaign to raise money for scholarships specifically for students in the academies.

Besides helping economically disadvantaged students who normally would not be able afford a four-year degree at Texas A&M, the program will help satisfy a surging statewide and national demand for highly qualified engineers, officials said.

“Everywhere you look there is a big gap between the needs of industry, the need for jobs that require technology, and the available talents,” said Shariq Yosufzai, a Chevron representative. “Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s also a business imperative.”

©2015 the San Antonio Express-News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.