College credit to be Richland high school option

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldDecember 14, 2013 

Richland high school students will soon be able to earn up to two years of college credit before graduating without setting foot on a college campus.

College credit for more than 60 courses taught by high school teachers will be offered through a partnership with Central Washington University as part of two programs, district officials said during a recent Richland School Board meeting.

A few of the courses will be available in January, so current juniors can apply for more advanced courses during their senior year. The district is also talking with Washington State University Tri-Cities about offering classes for credit.

Assistant Superintendent Todd Baddley told the board there are still logistics to work out but that he and other district officials are excited to offer students a new way to enhance their education.

"We want students to challenge themselves," he said.

Students throughout the Tri-Cities have long been able to earn college credit before leaving high school. Some schools, like Richland and Hanford high schools, offer a few courses through College in the High School, where students pay a fee to receive college credit for high-level classes.

Qualifying students can take free classes at Columbia Basin College in Pasco -- they have to pay for books and materials -- and can earn an associate degree before graduation. Students also can earn college credit through some courses at Tri-Tech Skills Center in Kennewick.

Baddley said state lawmakers and officials are pushing for more post-secondary offerings at the high school level. That's led the district to expand College in the High School and implement a new program, Running Start in the High School. Credit will be available through courses taught by high school teachers who are selected to be adjunct university faculty.

"It's kind of a like a four-year university's version of an (associate degree)," he said.

Officials at WSU Tri-Cities confirmed they are working with the district to support courses in the high schools, though more details won't be available until later this spring.

The programs have different funding mechanisms and student qualification requirements. Running Start in High School would receive state funding while the College in High School courses must pay tuition for college credit.

Running Start in High School also would require students to pass a test.

Students would need to have a 2.0 grade-point average or teacher permission to take College in High School courses and have to pay $55 per credit for each course. It typically costs $264.70 a credit hour to attend classes at CWU's campus as a full-time college student. The courses would cover the humanities, sciences, languages, economics and others.

While the current Running Start and other post-secondary courses are important and valued by some students, Baddley said the new programs will appeal to students who perhaps didn't want to have to leave their high school campus each day.

"We have students who want college credit and to still have the high school experience," he said.

The programs had support from the board. The tuition rate for the College in High School courses is a fraction of what board member Rick Donahoe said he paid for a recent course at WSU Tri-Cities.

There are still challenges and concerns to the new programs. Hanford High Principal Ken Gosney said there's a lot of logistics to address, from student schedules to transcripts. There's also the necessity of determining which instructors would be eligible to teach courses in the program, as they must have a master's degree in that subject.

Tuition for the college-level courses will be low but could still be a problem for needy students, administrators said. The district is looking at ways to defray costs for students and their families who can't shoulder it.

"We want to eliminate barriers," Baddley said.

A student at the board meeting said she was concerned how the new programs would affect AP class offerings, which she said are more challenging and better prepare students for higher education than current College in High School courses.

Baddley said the expectation is AP course enrollment will grow under the district's plan because AP classes could qualify for college credit through College in High School.

-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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