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Running Start students could face financial hurdle next year

Some high school students are expected to ditch the state’s popular Running Start program this fall.

The number of students who take advantage of the opportunity to earn college credit has grown every year since the program began in the early 90’s, but that progress could be coming to a halt.  

The state has covered the costs of the program more than two decades, allowing students to take college classes that count toward both a diploma and a degree. Now it’s reducing the number of courses it’ll cover.

Financial incentive

Nik Steele, an 18-year-old who participated in Running Start, says the drop in support could discourage students like him. He just graduated from Tumwater High School with a diploma and an associate of arts degree from South Puget Sound Community College. 

He says he definitely wanted to challenge himself, but his real motivation was financial:

“It’s always been an expectation that I will attend college, but my family can’t pay that fee."

Through Running Start, he attended college full-time for two years without paying a lick of tuition. He was also able to take as many high school classes as he wanted. He says that was critical when it came to algebra II and a leadership course his junior year:

“The leadership class was something that I made up my mind my sophomore year that I didn’t want to give up because leadership is one of my passions. And then my math class, I’ve always struggled in math, and I felt like that was something I didn’t want to test the waters going into a high speed math class at the college.”

Now it will costs

To have the same options next year, Running Start students will have to pay up. The state cut the amount it’s willing to fund by almost half. That means students who want to stay in some high school classes can’t take a full-load of free college credits. Or, if they want to go to college full-time, they pretty much have to forget about high school.

Steele would’ve had to shell out about $900 a year, plus the cost of books and course fees.

Denise Graham, who works for the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, says most of the program’s nearly 18,000 students already limit how much time they spend at each school:

“In the end, the choice is in their hand. They can choose whether or not they want to take more than a full load in the college and the high school. And if they choose to take more than a full load they will pay tuition for what they take over that limit.”

The legislature expects the drop in support to make more than 680 students jump ship.

With tuition rising, Graham says it’s still a bargain. If high school students commit to college after their sophomore year, they could save anywhere from $6,000 at community colleges to nearly $20,000 at the University of Washington.


Charla joined us in January, 2010 and is excited to be back in Seattle after several years in Washington, DC, where she was a director and producer for NPR. Charla has reported from three continents and several outlets including Marketplace, San Francisco Chronicle and NPR. She has a master of journalism from University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in architecture from University of Washington.