High Schoolers on Campus

By  Grace Gellatly in News

“I really like having Running Start students in my class.”

Fortunately for psychology professor John Governale, Clark has the largest Running Start program in Washington, with 10 percent of the state’s Running Start students, significantly more than any other college.

Running Start enrollment has nearly doubled in the past seven years from 993 enrolled in 2007 to 1,849 in winter 2014, according to Clark’s Department of Planning and Effectiveness. Junior and senior high school students enrolled through the Running Start program constituted 15 percent of students enrolled at Clark last quarter.

The Washington legislature approved Running Start in 1990. According to Linda Calvert, the associate director of Running Start, other colleges experimented with it for a few years before Clark first offered it in 1992.

She said Clark expects growth to continue, because it’s an affordable opportunity for students to get ahead. “It’s a great program,” she said. “I get to meet the most amazing students.”

Second-year Running Start student Mason Lepisto said he chose Running Start because he didn’t enjoy his high school experience. He also said he likes that students are more independent.

Lauren Pfeiffer, a first-year Running Start student, said she also prefers Clark to high school. She said she really likes the people, having the option to make her own schedule and appreciates that education is taken more seriously at Clark, because students choose to be there.

Prairie High School counselor, Steve Rhodes, said high schools don’t favor the program. They feel like they are losing some of their best students, he said. Rhodes also said high schools are not as pleased with the program because they lose most of their state funding, significantly reducing their already tight budget.

According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, 93 percent of state funding for each Running Start student goes to Clark. High schools only receive up to 7 percent of the funding that used to go to them for each student.

While this funding situation disadvantages local high schools, Calvert said it’s very beneficial for Clark. The increased revenue allows the college to hire more part-time faculty and open new sections of classes. She also said it’s good for taxpayers, because it doesn’t cost more money to have students take classes at Clark than at a public high school.

Shree Venkatachalam, a communications instructor at Clark, said most of her students in Running Start are overachievers, and their hard work pushes other students to work harder. However, she said some Running Start students aren’t ready or mature enough, don’t take criticism well, take class less seriously and are less attentive.

Calvert disagrees saying instructors at Clark believe most Running Start students are some of their best students and, on average, have a higher GPA than other students. Governale said the mix of ages and backgrounds makes class a richer experience.

Lepisto said he feels like a normal college student, rather than someone in high school. He said his instructors treat him equal to older students, too.

“I’m glad I did it,” Lepisto said. “If someone is on the fence about it they should definitely at least try it.”

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