Alex Heldrich, Reporter
Students and professors alike may have noticed that Pierce College Puyallup has a large population of students under the age of 18 on campus. Traditional students are likely to have Running Start students in their classes. This is because the Puyallup campus has 996 Running Start students enrolled in classes this school year.
Running Start is a program in Washington state that allows high school juniors and seniors to attend institutions of higher education such as community and technical colleges to get an associate degree without having to pay tuition for classes.
According to the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction website, Running Start was initiated by the Legislature in 1990 as a part of the parent and student Learning by Choice Law.
Running Start Manager Valerie Frey oversees the program on the Puyallup campus. She’s watched the program grow since she began in 2008.
“Starting in 2012-13, we saw an increase of 100 students per year,” Frey said. “Enrollment continued to grow in 2014-15 by 200 students and this year by almost 300.”
In the Pierce College district, there are over 1,600 high school students enrolled in Running Start who attend classes at either the Puyallup or Fort Steilacoom campus. This is a 20 percent increase from last year, Frey said.
While both campuses have Running Start students taking classes, the Puyallup campus has the most.
“The two campuses are like day and night,” Pierce Psychology Professor Sandra Croswaite said. “There’s a lot more activities going on over here than at Fort Steilacoom because of the younger crowd. Your student government is very involved.”
Frey said that the dramatic increase of Running Start students isn’t specific to Pierce College, as she has colleagues from around the region who have also seen growing Running Start populations at their own colleges. The benefits of Running Start can be enticing to young high school students.
“Running Start is awesome,” Running Start student Emma Embleton said. “You get a lot of freedom and decision making. You learn how to be an adult.”
Some Running Start students may be attracted to the educational aspects of the program.
“I get college credits and I’ll be graduating with my associate degree,” Sierra Underwood, Running Start student, said. “There are lots of other Running Start students in my classes.”
Frey isn’t sure as to the reason why Running Start has become increasingly popular in recent years. However, the most common question that she’s asked by students is, “how do I start?”
“My favorite thing about the program is the opportunity it provides to students,” Frey said. “One of my favorites, though, is seeing our students walk across the stage at graduation. Seeing their excitement when they receive their diploma holder is something you never forget.”
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