High school students in Simpson County were surprised this morning when they heard they'll get to take free college courses at Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College this year.
"My mom's on the school board, so she told me last night that they were meeting and had something to tell us, but she didn't have any idea what it was," said Caitlin Crawford, a high school senior.
It's part of the On Track program that started in 2009 when the Franklin-Simpson Center and Simpson County schools allowed students to get an early start in college with a reduced tuition rate.
"I'm glad I can get some of these college classes out of the way," said Payne Williams, another high school senior.
Students have been paying $144 for just the first credit hour of each class they take.
Now five organizations, including the City of Franklin, Simpson County Fiscal Court, the Franklin-Simpson Industrial Development Authority, Kentucky Downs and Franklin Bank and Trust Company, have come togetther and are offering $10,000 each for this new scholarship fund that will let students attend classes at no charge.
"It's just a sign that this community, this county, raises the bar every chance that they get. They're trying to do better and better and better, and this is a prime example of how they're doing that for you," said Dr. Phil Neal, the SKYCTC president.
For now, it's guaranteed for this year's students only.
"It's up to you and how well you do, the advantages that you take of this opportunity, as to whether or not we're able to go to these fine gentlemen next year and say, 'We want to do this again,'" said Dr. James McCaslin, the Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs.
The students are thankful for this opportunity.
"I think it'll be really good for us. I mean, it'll help a lot of parents out instead of having to pay for classes," Williams said.
And they plan to give it their all this year.
"Pass all these classes and start out at Western with more credits than I would have if I just stayed at the high school," Crawford said.
Already 228 students have been through the program, and this year the college expects to see more than 80 attend classes.
Since the program started, students have taken 492 courses, and the college has waived tuition beyond the first credit hour for each class -- totaling $146,240 that students did not have to pay.