With book bag and blue jeans, Elizabeth Wallace looks like any college freshman at Eastern Washington University, but she’s still in high school.
The 17-year-old senior is one of 21 high school students taking classes for the first time at EWU this year.
They are enrolled in the state’s Running Start program, which gives high school students a chance to earn college credits and satisfy high school requirements at the same time.
The state pays tuition.
Running Start has been available at community colleges for four years now, but this is the first time high school students have moved onto four-year campuses.
“I like it a lot,” Wallace said during a break between calculus and English. “This gives you more freedom. It’s up to you whether you pass or fail.”
Wallace is motivated. She spends her mornings at EWU, then rushes off for afternoon classes at Ferris High School. Later in the day, she practices on the gymnastics team.
Going to Ferris in the afternoon allows her to stay in touch with her “buds,” she said.
Only the best students qualify. They must have a grade average of 3.5 or higher in high school and strong scores on assessment tests.
Saving money on college tuition is a big plus, but the Running Start students said they like the challenge more than anything.
The pace of instruction is quicker. Homework is much heavier. Most college courses cover in 10 or 11 weeks the same material that takes a year in high school.
Students in the program are required to take classes like English and government to satisfy state graduation requirements.
By combining college and high school, some Running Start students can finish their four-year degrees by the time they are 20 years old. This will help alleviate the complaint that too many degree programs at state universities take five or six years to finish, officials said.
By this June, Wallace expects to earn nearly a year’s worth of college credits. She wants to become a pediatrician.
Juniors enrolled in the program could complete two years of college by the time they graduate from high school in 1997.
The program is popular. Community colleges are serving thousands of students every year, including more than 7,400 statewide in 1994-95. Currently, community colleges in Spokane and Colville have 515 high school students taking classes.
Ten other states offer similar programs.
For students, going to a four-year campus can be daunting at first.
Wallace said initially she was afraid she wouldn’t be accepted by the older students. Now, some of them are friends, and they’ve invited her to sleep over in their dorm rooms.
“It’s really easy to meet people,” she said. “I haven’t been to any college parties yet.”
Parents said they don’t worry about their children at college. These are youngsters who’ve already proven they can handle high school, so the extra freedom of college will allow them to grow, they said.
“I think it’s an excellent opportunity for them to get a taste of college,” said Elizabeth’s father, Bill Wallace.
If his daughter encounters problems, she still has her parents at home for advice, he said.
Nick Knapton, a junior at Central Valley High School, gave up his position as junior class president to attend classes full-time at EWU.
“It is so much better of an opportunity at Eastern,” said Knapton, who wants to major in business. “In high school you spend half your time waiting for the teacher to get organized or disciplining students.”
In college, most class time is spent in instruction. Assignments are done outside of class. In high school, teachers often give students large amounts of time to work on their studies.
Knapton said he likes having the intense lecture sessions followed by the freedom to study when and where he wants.
“Nick is eager to get moving with his life,” said Knapton’s stepfather, Kyle Olson. The only drawback is losing part of the high school experience such as social events, he said.
Knapton goes to EWU with his high school girlfriend, Belinda Roberts, a CV junior.
Roberts is taking a full load of college classes, including geology, government and chemistry.
“If you have the study skills and you can sit down and do it, it’s not all that much harder,” she said.
Like Knapton, she plans to get a degree in business. Both plan to transfer to the University of Washington after they graduate from high school.
For EWU, the high school students bring their eagerness and intellects to class. Teachers have long known that smart, articulate students elevate the level of discussion.
As a group, EWU’s high schoolers have an average grade point of 3.66.
In lieu of tuition, EWU receives money from the state’s basic education money that would otherwise go to the high schools. For each full-time high school student, EWU gets $3,300, which is about $1,000 more than annual tuition.
Mark Baldwin, EWU coordinator of Running Start, said the extra money offsets the cost of providing additional counseling services for the high schoolers.
Baldwin said he hopes the program will increase EWU visibility to the region’s high school students, and maybe encourage more of them to enroll there after they graduate from high school.
“What Eastern will really gain is a better reputation among high school seniors,” he said.
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MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Making the grade Students interested in Running Start should talk to their high school counselors. To get accepted at Eastern Washington University, juniors and seniors must have a 3.5 grade average. Also, seniors must have strong scores on precollege assessment tests. Students also must pass a precalculus and an English composition placement test given by EWU. Tuition is paid by the state, but students are responsible for books, supplies and transportation.