High school students fast-tracking their education are becoming an ever-growing portion of Columbia Basin College's enrollment.
More than 6,800 students were at the college for the first day of classes Monday, down from the 7,088 on campus the same day last year.
However, 955 high school students in the Running Start program make up part of those numbers. Running Start students make up 14 percent of the college's enrollment, up from 12 percent last year and continuing a growth trend from recent years.
The relatively strong economy drives down enrollment, college officials said, as workers don't feel pressure to advance or develop skills.
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CBC President Rich Cummins said the college's enrollment is stable, noting that the decline is a reflection of more students taking full course loads. However, the Running Start program shows that the college is launching point for many seeking higher education.
"More families are realizing we're just a great value," Cummins said.
Various programs and departments gained or lost a handful of students compared with the previous year. CBC's mathematics program grew the most of the academic departments, adding about 12 students.
Overall academic enrollment is down almost 100 students, to 3,148. The college's work force programs gained some students, particularly in apprenticeships. But basic skills courses lost enrollment.
Running Start has grown every year for more than a decade, adding about 100 students each year. The ability for families to save money is a big reason for that growth, said director Cheryl Holden. Running Start students don't pay tuition because the school districts provide money to CBC instead.
Only about 1 of 5 Running Start students will earn an associate degree, but they're still getting college courses out of the way, Holden said.
They also may want to get an early taste of what lies ahead after they graduate from high school.
"They welcome the challenge," Holden said.
Cummins said that taken all together, the college's enrollment numbers show that it is serving the communities needs and that there's room for improvement.
College officials already are planning two new buildings, a social sciences and language building on the Pasco campus and a second health science building at it's Richland campus.
"There's a whole bunch of programs we haven't developed yet because we don't have the room," he said.
And while maintaining enrollment is important, Cummins said the college is now looking at how to make sure all students are performing, not just showing up each day for class.
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