It’s time to stop charging students for their basic education.
Student loan debt in the United States will soon reach $1.7 trillion. This is having a profound impact on the ability of young people to pay for housing, transportation and other basic essentials. In Washington state, our colleges, universities and training programs have taken important steps to provide students with greater access to postsecondary opportunities, while simultaneously trying to reduce the overall cost of higher education to families.
Our state has been a national leader for nearly 30 years in providing students with the opportunity to earn college-level credit while in high school. These opportunities, called dual credit programs, come in two forms. In the first, students stay on their high school campus for Advanced Placement or College in the High School courses, among others. In the second, they leave their high school and take classes on college and university campuses through the Running Start program.
Together, dual credit programs serve nearly 130,000 students per year, saving those students and their families in future tuition and housing. Taking just one college-level class while in high school increases the likelihood a student will attend a higher education institution and graduate with a college degree or industry-recognized credential.
These programs are paid for with “basic education” dollars, the money the state puts forward to fund the staff, buildings and other essentials they’ve determined each school needs. However, in addition to what the state provides, the K-12 and higher education systems add additional fees to access these courses.
These additional costs add up: Last year, Washington families paid nearly $60 million for their students’ participation in dual credit programs.
Dual credit coursework is, by definition, coursework that meets the requirements of a high school diploma. There is a financial barrier when students and families are expected to pay out of pocket for these programs, which further drives the opportunity gaps that our state is committed to closing.
Family income should never be a barrier to accessing college-level coursework for a high school student ready to achieve college-level credit. Our state’s paramount duty is to serve our K-12 students equitably. It is almost incomprehensible that students who are accelerating are suddenly charged substantial costs to access their basic education credits.
I am requesting a bill this year that calls for the end of charging high school students mandatory fees and costs associated with college-level classes. The plan phases-in over four years and asks the K-12 and higher education systems to phase-out these charges to students, and instead use existing basic education funds already provided by the state. Over the past four years, the Legislature has added over $4 billion per year to basic education funding. As a result, Running Start reimbursements alone from our high schools to our community colleges have grown from $100 million to $200 million per year.
The practice of charging high school students mandatory costs to participate in advanced learning has to end, with or without additional funding from the state. The current practice has resulted in low-income students participating in dual credit programs at half the rate of their peers, yet these are the students who need the most financial assistance. I am challenging the K-12 and higher education systems to embrace this opportunity to allow students to access their basic education credits more equitably.
Chris Reykdal is Washington state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.
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