The law that sets aside half of state college places for minorities and graduates of public high schools is paying off one of Brazil's historical debts, President Dilma Rousseff said Monday.

"That law helps pay off Brazil's historical debt to our poorest young people," she said on her weekly radio program "Breakfast with the President."

Rousseff signed the measure in August, but it only went into effect this Monday with the publication of the respective regulations.

"Our goal is to increase access to our universities and our state institutions to youths from public schools, the blacks and the Indians. These universities are among the best in the country and, very often, students from public schools have a hard time getting into them," Rousseff said.

The 50-percent quota will be phased-in over four years, beginning with the 2013 freshman class, she said.

Close to half of Brazil's population consider themselves black or of mixed-race, according the 2010 Census, and most belong to the poorest strata of society.

Several of Brazil's state universities are regarded to be among the best in the world.

Rousseff recalled during her program that Brazil also has a financing policy, the University for Everyone Program, that provides scholarships so that even the poorest students can aspire to higher education and which has already benefited 1.1 million students. EFE