The Running Start program, which allows Washington state high school students to start their higher education early by enrolling in community college courses, has been a great success.
Students have become motivated about higher education, some of whom might not have set foot in a college or university without this opportunity. In addition, it has saved these students -- and their families -- money as they could earn some college credits without having to pay tuition.
This program is being well used in this community. Currently 60 high school students from Walla Walla and College Place are attending Walla Walla Community College as full-time students in the Running Start program. Another 77 Wa-Hi students are part-time in the program and four Lincoln Alternative High School students are going to WWCC on a part-time basis.
But a proposal making its way through the Legislature aimed at generating a little bit of income for the state has the potential to ruin Running Start and the opportunities it provides.
The proposal, which was approved by the Senate, allows higher education institutions to charge Running Start students up to 10 percent of tuition. The program is now free to the students, although they do have to pay some class fees. Under this plan, low-income students could qualify for a waiver for the 10 percent tuition.
Frankly, we understand the desire to charge for this program. Higher education is, after all, something of value. And since those who are out of high school have to pay for higher education, it is reasonable that these high school students could pay something.
But Running Start isn't a college program, it's a high school program -- it's still under the umbrella of basic education. The state is, as it should be, responsible for fully funding that education.
A fee -- even a small one -- would likely cause students and their parents to rethink Running Start. At least a few would opt not to enroll at WWCC early.
Opportunity would be lost.
And we fear the 10 percent tuition imposed this year will grow to 20 percent, 50 percent or more in the coming years.
We fully understand the state needs to collect as much revenue as possible to reduce budget cuts to education and other programs.
But the money collected under this plan won't offset the damage done to the Running Start program.
Running Start has provided access to higher education to some who might never have gone to college. The Legislature shouldn't mess with this solid program.