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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Walking start to Running Start’: Bill would allow students to enroll in college courses before 11th grade

Spokane Falls Community College campus sign is shown.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

High schoolers might have the opportunity to begin Running Start courses earlier than expected if a bill allowing rising juniors to enroll in college classes during the summer becomes law.

Before starting 11th grade, 10th-grade students could take up to 10 credits at a local community college over the summer through the Running Start program, under a bill proposed by Sen. Brad Hawkins, R-East Wenatchee.

The state program lets high school students earn college credits, but is currently limited to juniors and seniors.

The legislation is progressing toward the governor’s desk, having unanimously advanced through the Senate on Feb. 2 with one member excused, and passing out of the House Education Committee on Monday.

“(This bill) will give many high-achieving and goal-driven rising juniors the opportunity they need to pursue their future without worrying about cost,” Anthony Zavala, a Running Start student at Wenatchee Valley College, testified Thursday.

College is more expensive today than ever, Zavala said. The average cost of a public four-year college is 23 times higher than tuition in 1963, having risen 12% over the past decade, according to Education Data.

To aid these rising costs, 11th- and 12-graders in Washington can participate in Running Start, a free dual credit program. Partnering with local community colleges or universities, school districts, charter schools and state-tribal education schools offer high schoolers the chance to earn tuition-free college credits alongside completing their high school diplomas. The state primarily funds the program, supplemented by contributions from high schools.

The bill would also require school districts to provide information about Running Start summer enrollment options to students and their families.

“When students have the opportunities to get engaged with college as early as possible, they’re more prone to not only finish high school, but they have opportunities to continue to earn a post-secondary credential,” said Faimous Harrison, president of Wenatchee Valley College.

Students can take a full- or part-time course load, some graduating with an associate degree by the end of high school.

Spokane-area students wanting to participate in the Running Start program can take classes through Spokane Falls Community College, Spokane Community College and Eastern Washington University.

This year’s legislation builds upon the Running Start Summer School Pilot program established in 2020, which sought to evaluate the interests and barriers of earlier Running Start opportunities. With an average rate of 90% for completion and 87% for college retention, meaning the students continued at their Running Start school after graduation, lawmakers think it’s time to make this program permanent.

Transitioning from high school to the college environment can pose challenges, particularly for juniors juggling a full load of college courses, Hawkins said.

The goal of the bill is to help students adjust to college life, providing them with an opportunity to familiarize themselves and make connections over the summer.

“I’m calling this bill a walking start to Running Start because you have to walk before you run,” he said.

The bill awaits further consideration in the House before potentially moving to the floor.