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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Putting the ‘University’ in ‘University High School,’ students can soon earn AA degree as high schoolers in Central Valley pilot program

A Central Valley High School drummer is rolled onto the court on Jan. 16, 2019, during the Stinky Sneaker spirit competition with University at the Spokane Veterans wMemorial Arena.  (COLIN MULVANY)

University High School is about to live up to its name.

College degrees will be accessible to University High School students for free next year under the high school’s roof, in a partnership approved by the school board earlier this month.

The partnership between the school district, Community Colleges of Spokane and Eastern Washington University creates a pathway for students to earn their associate degree from Spokane Community College by taking specific courses offered in their neighborhood school to be piloted among University High School’s incoming class of freshmen.

Other options for students to earn college credit in high school such as running start require kids to travel to a college campus for some schooling, or in the case of AP classes where students earn college credit, but not necessarily a degree.

“Instead of sending a student off to go take a class at a community college or at a university, what if we could keep them at the high school and still offer that college credit bearing class to them without having to compromise some of the academics or also compromise the high school experience?” Central Valley superintendent John Parker asked the school board to consider while discussing the program.

Students will need to enroll in a specific selection of classes, Parker said, to earn their diploma and degree. Only certain high school classes correspond with university courses; University High School’s AP World History becomes five credits of Eastern’s HIST 103, cardio fitness becomes PHED 150. In their 11th and 12th grade years, students will take two courses online, with the district ensuring they have the space to do so while still in high school, Parker said.

The specific courses align best with students interested in pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree at one of Washington’s four-year public universities. If they complete the necessary classes associated with the program, they’ll start college with their general education requirements complete and in their junior year.

Central teachers and their syllabi are vetted and accredited through Eastern Washington University to ensure their curriculum meets college-level standards. For the pilot year, nearly all of the required teachers are already certified through Eastern Washington University, Parker said.

“Eastern goes through what our teachers are teaching in their courses and just makes sure that they align with a college course,” said Hana Miller, assistant principal at University High School. “In a lot of the classes, they’ve actually found that what we’re teaching is more rigorous than what the college class is teaching.”

If their grading standards differ from what colleges expect, teachers can file separate marks for students’ college credits and those appearing on their high school transcript, Miller said.

Parker said the district would financially help teachers when needed to meet their accreditation, a “nominal cost,” to the district.

Nominal especially when considering the other financial implications of this program on the district.

“We would have increased retention of student enrollment, while also having a gradual reduction of running start costs,” Parker said.

Parker doesn’t know what many of the costs to the program will be, recognizing “known unknowns” in areas like staffing and student interest. Depending on how many pupils sign up for the courses, the district may have to hire more teachers for specific classes that earn college credit – though the district is confident their finances will come out on top by doing this program.

“Overall, the fiscal analysis shows an increase in revenue and reduction in costs,” Parker said. This year, running start programs cost the district around $2.6 million districtwide. The district reimburses community colleges at a rate of 93% of state funding per student, said Kevin Brockbank, chancellor of the community colleges of Spokane.

“We’re trying to make sure all students in our service area who want to access dual credit have an option to do so,” Brockbank said, noting students without cars to ferry them from college to high school campuses as is necessary in running start.

“We just think it’s an equity issue that we would like to solve,” he said.

Initial surveying shows around 50 incoming University High freshmen are interested in the program. By keeping them on the school’s campus, Parker said the district would retain around $480,000 per year in state revenue, assuming that those 50 would otherwise leave campus their junior and senior years for running start.

In sending students to community colleges for classes, the district forfeits some money from the state’s coffers. The state funds districts based on enrollment equivalency. For example, if a student spends half of their school day at their high school and half taking running start classes at a local college, the state only funds the district for half of a fully enrolled student.

University’s implementation of the program is a pilot stage, with Central Valley planning to expand to Ridgeline and Central Valley High Schools the following year. Spokane Public Schools is also exploring how the program could fit their schools.