Students at Tuscaloosa City schools who are dually enrolled at Shelton State Community College will now be able to earn up to 18 hours of college credit free of charge, area leaders announced Tuesday.

Money from mayor Walt Maddox's Elevate Tuscaloosa tax plan already allows dually-enrolled TCS students to receive up to nine hours of course credit at Shelton State, the University of Alabama or Stillman College.

The extension will allow the students to receive an additional nine hours of coursework for free if the student enrolls at Shelton State following high school graduation.

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Dr. Mike Daria, superintendent of the Tuscaloosa City Schools, thanked Mayor Maddox and Stillman President Chris Cox during a Wednesday morning press conference for their work in providing scholarships to every student in the district and said he is excited about the opportunity this program affords.

"This is access at its best. When we give our students access, we open opportunity and we remove a potential barrier of funding," Daria said. "College is not cheap, it's expensive and when we are able to provide our students with up to 18 hours, at no cost, at an incredibly great community college, like Shelton State, we are changing outcomes. We are changing lives for our students."

Cox said the students will automatically qualify for a scholarship at Shelton State that will begin in the summer or fall semester following the student's graduation.

Cox said encouraged students to seize the opportunity, which he said will help the student and community overall.

"Where we lose students, oftentimes, is if students take a break after they graduate high school, so this is an encouraging tool to get our students to not take that break," Cox said. "Students that start [college] directly after high school finish and we need more students finishing. It's going to help our economy, it's going to help our workforce, and overall, it's going to help the Tuscaloosa region."

Mayor Walt Maddox said when the city council passed his tax plan, they pledged to help youth and families get a head start in assisting with post-secondary educational resources.

"Elevate today, is providing nine hours a year with books, tuition and fees to give our young people a head start in life," Maddox said. "When Dr.Cox and the school system put this idea of partnership to leverage another nine hours on top of it, how could you not be proud to be from Tuscaloosa?"

Gerald Crummie, a senior at Paul W. Bryant High School who is currently enrolled at Shelton State in the welding dual-enrollment program, said he is excited this opportunity will allow him to earn his associate's degree shortly after finishing high school and expose other students to the program.

"It's a great opportunity to be taking advantage of because it puts me ahead of those who aren't taking advantage of it," Crummie said. "As a dual enrollment ambassador [at Shelton State], I can also bring in other students that want to get into dual enrollment and help them navigate their classes."

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