This week Peninsula College will host the first of two “information evenings” on Running Start, the early enrollment program that gives students an opportunity to earn college credit at the college while still enrolled in high school.
The program, created by the Washington Legislature in 1990, has proved popular with many
Sequim students — and with their parents.
Though they acknowledge and welcome the many benefits to students the program provides, some school officials also note that Running Start puts a further strain on tight district finances by directing to Peninsula College funds that otherwise would be kept in district coffers. The difficulties are exacerbated by recent cuts in funding that are hitting Washington’s public schools hard. More cuts are on the way.
Legislators created the program to give Washington students a “running start” at earning a college degree and added as an impetus full public funding for the college courses.
Given that college costs have far outpaced inflation over the past 30 years, the savings are significant.
Today, 80 or more Sequim high juniors and seniors are spending at least part of their day studying at Peninsula College. (See sidebar.)
That’s a big chunk of funding that’s leaving the district, at a time when it can perhaps least afford the cuts.
Brian Lewis, the Sequim School District’s business manager, said the state recently cut $213,000 from the district’s annual budget.
He said the cut was particularly painful because “it was money they’d already said they would pay,” and therefore had to be removed from an already functioning budget.
He said the state is deliberating another $215,000 cut — and more cuts may follow.
Lewis said Sequim is luckier than many districts because as “the burden is shifting from the state to local,” Sequim residents have been “fantastic, wonderful,” in meeting the additional needs. Lewis said Sequim voters have consistently chosen to impose tax levies on themselves, replacing the lost state revenues. “What we’re seeing is the community is stepping up.”
Nevertheless, recent cuts are causing pain and the loss of revenue to Peninsula College isn’t helping.
Lewis noted that one of the district’s “priorities is keeping as many teachers as possible.” As revenues continue to decline, the school board and staffers will face some tough decisions. “Where do we cut?” Lewis asked. “Tech enhancements, curriculum materials?”Sequim Superintendent Bill Bentley put it succinctly: “We have the capacity for more students, but not the revenue. That puts more of a strain on our budget.”
Bentley remarked on other issues regarding Running Start, saying some aspects are “positive” while others are “challenges.”
“Having kids have access to college credit is a very positive thing. And there is certainly a financial benefit (for the students and their parents).”
“One challenging piece is students have to leave campus. We have outstanding programs here — it’s a difficult trade-off,” Bentley said.
Bentley said the students also miss out on good times. “The price they pay is they remove themselves from campus and campus activities that students enjoy tremendously.”
Bentley noted the school now offers Advanced Placement courses that “are extremely rigorous, matching or exceeding standards at a community college.”
“If I were able to influence the state, they would authorize us to give college credit,” Bentley said. He admitted that’s not likely to happen.
Lewis echoed some of Bentley’s comments, saying “When you go to college, it’s a college experience. We tend to have a little more adult interaction to make sure they’re staying on track.”
He said student response to the newfound freedom is “a mixed bag. We have students go for a semester, then come back. It wasn’t what they expected. Others thrive,” he said. “Like when they graduate from high school.”
Sequim district officials work with Peninsula College to ensure the high school students are meeting through their college courses the educational standards established for graduation from high school. “They still have to meet our requirements,” Lewis said.
The majority of the youths succeed, Lewis said. In the end, some 10-15 Sequim High students a year end up receiving both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree.
Chantelle Holgerson, a junior at Sequim High, is an enthusiastic proponent of Running Start. She’s now taking two classes at Peninsula College but hopes soon to be a full-time student there.
“My reasoning was I thought it would be great to get my AA. They pay for most of it — we only pay for books. That will save my parents money,” she said. “Once I transfer to a four-year college I will have to pay.”
Holgerson said the experience may not be right for everyone but she really has enjoyed it. “It’s great if you’re not so into the high school environment. They don’t baby you. They treat us like adults. If they give you an assignment, they assume you’re going to do it.”
She recognizes there are some in the Sequim school system who don’t share her enthusiasm. When she registered for Running Start, “there were some teachers who were totally against it. But some were for it.”
Running Start also provides a good deal more flexibility in schooling. Sequim High senior Ryan Tucker attends Peninsula College through the Running Start program via online classes from Keystone, Colo. He’s spending the winter there working on his snowboarding skills. But that’s just the latest of his travels. As a member of the new Portland Uprising professional paintball team, he will be on the road much of the year.
“The Running Start program has worked great for me and I am in full support of it. Always being busy and traveling didn’t work well with high school, but with a more mature college-based style, Running Start did the trick.
“I’m currently taking two classes in order to focus on snowboarding as well. One is a philosophy class on ethics and the other is a study of American government.
“I love having the option of Running Start. It provides students with a free way to earn college credit and learn at a college level.”
Tucker will receive his AA degree and high school diploma this spring.