Running Start may face reductions

The Running Start program may face some changes in the near future. Running Start is popular so it would take quite a bit for the legislature to omit it but the current state of the program may not last for long, said Anne Molenda, South Puget Sound Community College’s Running Start program manager.

The State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and institutions of higher education that provide the Running Start Program were instructed by the Legislature in 2009 to team up to develop long-term funding plans for the Running Start program.

The result of this collaboration was Senate Bill 5572, which proposes that institutions of higher education should be able to limit enrollment in the running start program. According to the the Senate Bill Report for SB5572, the Running Start Program has been financially challenging for some Washington colleges. As of Feb. 21, the bill has been referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for evaluation.

Should the bill be passed, institutions such as SPSCC would be able to balance their budget by accepting fewer Running Start students.

Running Start offers 11th and 12th grade students who are uncomfortable with high school environment, the opportunity to pursue their education in college level courses. “Running Start often addresses a social need that advanced placement (AP) and international baccalaureate (IB) programs don’t,” according to the Senate Bill Report.

Running Start at SPSCC is a stepping stone for students, many of whom plan to transfer to a 4 year college, said Molenda.

To Huy Nguyen Tran, a Running Start senior from Tumwater High School, SPSCC is just that. Nguyen Tran knew that he could graduate high school with his AA, saving him time and money. Nguyen Tran intends to continue his education, pursuing a degree in Computer Science or getting his PhD in psychology.

“By joining SPSCC, it’s given me the opportunity to get a ‘running start’ on my future college path,” said Nguyen Tran.

Hailey Oppelt, a North Thurston junior feels she has more freedom doing Running Start at SPSCC. “The students willingly go to school; you don’t have the hierarchy and immaturity that comes with high school,” said Oppelt.

Some students do Running Start to figure out if college is for them without having to commit the tuition dollars, said Molenda.

In other cases, Running Start students may have jobs or hope to complete college in less time.

“I chose Running Start because I didn’t want to sit around and wait to get my life together,” said Lisa Blaylock, a Running Start senior from North Thurston.

Even though limiting high school students is a bigger and more probable threat, said Molenda, charging a portion of tuition to Running Start students was considered as well.

“While our tuition prices increase, the percentage of money that school districts pay stays the same,” said Molenda. There’s a gap and it’s been suggested that the Running Start students should fill it.

College presidents are unwilling to bill the students for the tuition though, because a drop in Running Start students means a drop in profit, according to the Senate Bill 5572 Report. “I’m not sure what SPSCC would do, we definitely would have input on the matter, but it ultimately would be the president’s decision,” said Molenda.

A total of 18 credits are offered to Running Start students, school districts pay for up to 15 credits, the college absorbs any extra costs, said Molenda.

Raising the percentage that the school districts pay was considered but due to budget cuts, this seems unlikely, said Molenda.

If a share of the tuition was required for Running Start students the program would exclude those who couldn’t afford it, and that would be the majority of the students, said Molenda.

As of now running start tuition is taken care of. Without the program some students wouldn’t have had the opportunity to attend college at all, said Molenda.

For Priti Sreedaran, a Running Start senior from Black Hills High School, her parents knew that they would only have to pay for two years of college versus four. Sreedaran plans on transferring to study business administration at the University of Washington.

With tuition at $8,689 annually, before books, transportation, room and board at the University of Washington, her parents saved a large sum of money.