Widener University will discount tuition up to 50 percent for Chester city employees, their spouses and dependents for certain associate's and bachelor's degrees, as well as the master's program in education, school officials announced Thursday.

The Chester-based university already partners with  Philadelphia to offer a 25 percent discount to that city's workers through the Returning to Learning Partnership. Under the program, more than a dozen schools provide tuition breaks to Philadelphia city employees.

Three hundred people who work for Chester, along with their family members, will be eligible for deep discounts on majors including allied health, legal studies, general studies, criminal justice, liberal arts, organizational leadership, and psychology through Widener's Center for Continuing Studies. They also can enroll in three online master of education programs: allied health education, education foundations, and instructional technology.

The program takes effect immediately and lasts until 2021, when either the city or the university can take steps to extend it.

In a news release, Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland called the new partnership "a pivotal stepping stone, not just for the employees but the entire city of Chester." Through higher education, he said, employees "will better serve our community."

Undergraduate tuition at Widener is $43,296, although 97 percent of students receive some form of financial aid, according to its website. The university has 3,591 undergraduates and 2,811 in graduate school.

Undergraduate course work in the Center for Continuing Studies will be discounted 45 percent. A 50 percent discount will be offered for the online master of education programs. The master's program costs about $23,700.  The Center for Continuing Studies charges $600 to $900 per credit, depending on the program.

University president Julie E. Wollman said in the announcement that "as neighbors, we are proud to share these academic opportunities with the men and women who contribute to the city's progress through their work in public service."

She added in an interview Thursday that "I feel personally that education is fundamental to developing a thriving city and economic development.... Certainly, it's clearly the fundamental area where if we're going to make a difference, that's where it all starts."

Widener, situated in one of Pennsylvania's poorest communities, and its students help the struggling city in various ways, such as volunteering to tutor, helping out at food pantries and working with the Boys and Girls Club. The school also runs the Widener Partnership Charter School.

Other cities that have cut deals with colleges to give their workers breaks on higher education costs include Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and San Diego.