MUSCLE SHOALS — Mark Senf had been out of college for about 20 years, but an opportunity to further his education at the University of North Alabama through a discounted tuition program was too good to pass up.

A sergeant over the training division at the Florence Police Department, Senf said he enrolled in a graduate school program at UNA and is expected to receive a master's degree in criminal justice in the spring.

"It's a very good discount," Senf said. "It helped motivate me to go back."

Senf said the program allowing Florence Police Department employees attend UNA with discounted tuition has been in place for a couple of years.

During Thursday's Northwest Alabama Council of Local Governments board meeting, UNA president Ken Kitts announced an agreement between NACOLG and UNA that will extend the same discount to NACOLG employees and employees of all its members counties and municipalities.

The NACOLG region includes Colbert, Franklin, Lauderdale, Winston and Marion counties and their various municipalities.

NACOLG Executive Director Keith Jones said UNA reached out to him to discuss the offer.

"They were trying to become more regional," Jones said.

He said some local governments already have similar agreements with UNA, but Thursday's announcement made it available to 37 governments in the NACOLG region.

"It allows employees of any of the member organizations under the NACOLG umbrella, 37 governmental entities, to take advantage of any degree that UNA offers at a deeply discounted rate," Kitts said.

The agreement went into effect on Thursday.

"We've long prided ourselves as being a partner with NACOLG," Kitts said.

He encouraged the county commissioners, mayors and city council members in attendance to pass the information on to their employees.

Senf said thinks there are other Florence Police officers who are taking advantage of the program.

"When the program came out, I had been looking at other schools and campuses to get back into it," Senf said. "I was already a UNA alumni, so it was nice to stay home."

Kitts said for the first time in its history, UNA has surpassed 8,000 students. International student enrollment is also bucking national trends.

The university is also attracting more students from Madison, Morgan and Limestone counties, and 2,624 students, about one third of the student body, come from NACOLG member counties in northwest Alabama.

Florence Mayor Steve Holt called the agreement extraordinary and said he hopes Florence employees will continue to participate in it.

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