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News / Northwest

WA’s incoming high school juniors will be allowed to enroll in college courses this summer

Lawmakers this year expanded the state’s popular Running Start program.

By Grace Deng, Washington State Standard
Published: April 17, 2024, 6:02am

This summer, Washington’s high schoolers will be able to get an even earlier start on college courses.

That’s because of a bill led by Sen. Brad Hawkins, R-Wenatchee, which expands the state’s popular Running Start program. Running Start has allowed Washington’s high school juniors and seniors to earn college credit tuition-free since the early 1990s.

Under Hawkins’ measure, incoming 11th graders will be allowed to take college courses and earn up to 10 credits over the summer. The legislation sailed through both legislative chambers and Gov. Jay Inslee signed it into law in late March.

“I’ve been calling my bill a ‘Walking Start to Running Start’ because it will ease students into their college experience, minimize their debt, and get them a bit closer to earning their degrees,” Hawkins said in March.

The bill goes into effect in June, in time for this year’s cohort of 10th grade graduates to enroll, Hawkins said in an email to the Standard. Hawkins’ local community college, Wenatchee Valley College, is currently working on enrollment forms and other information related to implementing the new law.

Faimous Harrison, Wenatchee Valley College’s president, said the program helps students transition into college in a less intimidating environment and gives them a jump on figuring out a career path.

“When we talk about the value of a degree, one of the concerns is there are so many people who get all the financial debt from going to school and then they can’t find jobs or they’re not interested in that field,” Harrison said.

“Running Start also creates opportunities for early exploration. It also offers opportunities to meet with different people, learn about different fields,” Harrison said.

School districts must also provide information about Running Start summer enrollment opportunities to students and their families under the new law. Students can take part-time or full-time classes and some earn associate’s degrees by the time they graduate high school.

Tuition is covered by the student’s home school district and largely paid for through state funding, although Running Start students may be on the hook for textbooks, transportation and other fees that come with college classes.

The new law is also an expansion of summer Running Start courses, which became available to 11th and 12th graders in 2021 through a state-run pilot program. That program showed “promising results:” Participating colleges reported an average completion rate of 90% and an 87% summer-to-fall Running Start retention rate.

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: info@washingtonstatestandard.com. Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and Twitter.