The Audain Foundation has pledged $100,000 for the first year of the program, which will enable students to become members of the art gallery for just five dollars. A regular membership normally costs $75.
Over the next five years, the program is expected to expand to include all post-secondary students in B.C. who are studying visual arts.
Michael Audain, chair of the foundation, said he was approached by the gallery and immediately thought it was "a wonderful idea."
He said he benefited a great deal from his student membership at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in the 1950s.
About 200 students have signed up for the membership since it became available on Wednesday.
"You can study art in books and on the Internet all you want, but until you go into an art gallery and see the real thing and get a sense of the proportion and the real colours which aren't distorted and experience the sculpture in three dimensions, you're not coming to grips with art and able to establish a real relationship with it," Audain said.
About 2,000 Emily Carr students will be able to benefit from the program in the first year.
By 2018, the program is expected to be made available to more than 10,000 students.