The number of Running Start students enrolled at both the Puyallup and Fort Steilacoom campuses for the 2011-2012 school year declined by 4 percent from the previous school year.
The reason for the decline is unclear, but Vice President of Administrative Services Joann Wiszmann believes part of the cause can be contributed to recent budget cuts.
“Budget cuts have resulted in the district offering fewer classes for all students, including Running Start,” Wiszmann said.
Last year’s $2.9 million budget cut to Pierce College caused a significant decrease in the number of classes available to students. With fewer class choices and competitive class registration, many students have felt the effect of the budget cuts.
Another factor contributing to the decline in Running Start enrollment may be the law passed by the state Legislature that decreased the number of credits that the state would pay the tuition for from 1.5 FTE to 1.2 FTE.
“I believe the key factor in the change is a result of the legislative changes that came into effect fall 2011,” Running Start Manager Valerie Frey said. “Running Start students now are limited on the amount of (state-funded) credits they can take at the college based on the number of classes enrolled in at the high school.”
Recently the Legislature considered further decreasing the number of FTE Running Start students could take from 1.2 to 1.0 FTE. The proposal didn’t make it into further revisions of the bill and Wiszmann believes it’s unlikely that the proposal will resurface.
If Running Start enrollment continues to decline, it could cause more budget concerns for the school. Pierce College is built in part because of Running Start student enrollment.
“Running Start revenues play a vital part in the district’s operating budget. They account for $3.7 million of the current year’s expected revenue,” Wiszmann said. “That’s 9 percent of the district’s operating budget.”
Because of the law passed by state legislature, when the budget was planned for the 2011-2012 school year budgeters built in an expected 3 percent decline of Running Start students. The decline in Running Start students was actually 4 percent and the 1 percent difference in the estimate made a $37,000 difference in the budget revenue. The underestimate of the decline made no significant impact on the budget because money saved in other areas of the budget covered the difference.
Because of the potential affect the number of Running Start students has on the Pierce College budget, budgeters must continue to predict the status of Running Start enrollment and factors that could affect it.
“Historically, Running Start began as a program designed to fill extra seats in classes the colleges would offer anyway. As it has grown over the years, it has become much more than that,” Wiszmann said. “Clearly, if we did not have the $3.7 million in revenue from Running Start, we would not be able to offer as many classes and serve as many students.”
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