The Running Start Program was initiated by the Washington State Legislature as a component of the 1990 parent and student "Choice" Act (Chapter 9, Laws of 1990, 1st Ex. Sess.). It is intended to provide students a program option consisting of attendance at certain institutions of higher education (community colleges) and the simultaneous earning of high school and college/university credit. Eleventh (11th) and twelfth (12th) grade students have a right (italics mine) granted by the Legislature to participate in Running Start at public expense. The exercise of that right is subject only to minimal eligibility and procedural requirements, which are spelled out, in state administrative rules. (Office of the Superindendent of Public Instruction, 2008). Running Start is described as an option similar to AP or IB programs that give high achieving students the opportunity to challenge themselves beyond what their high school might be able to provide. However the day-to-day reality in the community colleges that receive Running Start students is a critical issue.
The minimal eligibility and procedural requirements have led to a Running Start boom. In 2006-07, 16,826 students participated in Running Start. Running Start students make up eight percent of all community and technical college full-time equivalent students (10,842 FTEs), and more than 18 percent of academic enrollments. These numbers are putting a strain on community college financial and service resources, and the students are not necessarily ready for college or succeeding at the college level. The community college is reimbursed by the State for a Running Start FTE at the high school monetary level, not the higher college rate, so any community college enrolling Running Start students runs a deficit, because they cannot charge these students tuition to make up the shortfall. At Highline Community College, students (of any cohort) are routinely turned away from required academic classes like WRIT 101 and certain science classes because of high demand. Waitlists can number 30 students or more. The Director of the Advising Center created an entire program for academic intervention for the Running Start cohort by itself because the students were failing in such high numbers. Other community colleges report the same problems.
This is a critical issue for the State of Washington because it speaks to a number of basic questions about education. What is an educational “right”? How are the scarce financial resources of the state to be allocated? How are scarce seats in higher education to be allocated? Is there a social benefit to keeping high school age students in high school? What are the outcomes for students who perform poorly in Running Start, and then have those transcripts “following” them throughout higher education?
Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Retrieved September 28, 2008, from http://www.k12.wa.us/RunningStart/default.aspx
See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Running_Start