As the price of higher education continues to rise, more Washington high school juniors and seniors are taking advantage of a state program to earn college credits cheaply while finishing high school.
Running Start has seen steady growth since the late 1990s, according to a recent report on the Spokane Community Indicators Initiative, a website operated by Eastern Washington University that reports a wide range of data about the community.
Spokane County teens are especially keen on the program. Last year, 12.2 percent of high school juniors and seniors in the county participated in Running Start, more than twice the 1998 rate. The state’s average in 2010 was 10.7 percent, the report states.
Participation is typically higher in urban areas because colleges where the program is available are more accessible, one official at EWU said.
Eastern Washington University and Community Colleges of Spokane have seen record Running Start enrollment this academic year and expect it will continue in 2011-’12. About 975 full-time high school students are enrolled in CCS, which encompasses Spokane Falls Community College, Spokane Community College and the Institute for Extended Learning, and about 370 go to EWU.
“It’s the best value there is,” said Jim Minkler, vice president of learning at Spokane Falls Community College.
Students pay lab and course fees – an average of $80 per term – and buy their textbooks. Tuition is waived. Participating colleges receive about $4,852 annually per student from the state.
Students taking college classes earn both high school and college credits. There’s no limit to the number of classes a student can take; some earn a two-year degree by the time they graduate high school.
Tuition increases at Washington’s public universities and colleges ranged from 7 percent to 28 percent for resident undergraduate students during the past two years, said Gary Larson, a spokesman for the Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board. Two semesters at Washington State University currently would cost about $9,600 before books, transportation, room and board.
“My family wouldn’t have been able to pay for college, so I would have been shopping a lot more for scholarships,” said Amanda Cash, 17, a senior at Lewis and Clark High School. She attends Running Start classes at Spokane Falls Community College.
While a struggling economy and families taking advantage of the opportunity to earn college credits on the cheap are the primary reasons Running Start enrollment has increased, an EWU instructor who helped compile the recent data on the program says there are many factors that lead to a student’s decision to participate.
“Frequently students and parents comment that without Running Start they may not be going to college at all,” said Mark Baldwin, associate vice provost for programs, policies and operations. “But there are different reasons for different kids (who enroll in the program). They come out to the college to take classes where they are more academically challenged. Some students say it’s more of a social kind of a thing. They don’t feel connected at high school.”
Cash, who will earn her high school diploma and an Associate of Arts degree at the same time, said she fit that description. “High school was really not the atmosphere for me, and I was told I was academically strong enough to do college classes. So I decided to try it, and I was able to have some success,” she said.
Mead High School senior Jake Bogensberger enrolled in Running Start last fall, but he wishes he’d started a year earlier.
“My friends at high school told me to stick with my classes my junior year to get more of the high school experience, but high school just doesn’t prepare you for life and college as completely as Running Start,” he said. “It prepares you for the college experience socially and academically.”