The number of Running Start students at WSU Tri-Cities nearly tripled this year.
Administrators say it’s a positive change for the campus, but some faculty members are concerned the rapid expansion may affect the education students receive.
Resident Faculty Organization’s executive committee members, the body representing faculty at the campus, will discuss the future of the program during a meeting Wednesday with Chancellor Keith Moo-Young.
The university enrolled 100 junior and senior high school students in the region last year, said Jeff Dennison, the WSU director of marketing and communication. The students achieved a mean grade point average of 3.6 before starting the program.
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The majority of the students, 71, returned for their second year in the program, he said. The total enrollment at the campus is 1,868 students — an increase of 275 students since last year — with 202 being new Running Start students.
“It’s been a change for us on campus,” Dennison said. “We didn’t have Running Start students on campus two years ago. ... It’s been a good change. It’s been an exciting time because the students have brought a lot of energy to campus.”
University officials are striving to offer high-achieving students a chance to experience an “immersive WSU college experience and the highest possible academic quality of any university in the region,” Dennison said.
“The community is responding to our increased academic offerings and seeing the value in our STEM-based, polytechnic approach to education,” he said. “We expect the program to grow with the overall enrollment of the campus.”
Some faculty members are concerned the program’s growth comes at the cost of providing a quality education to every student attending classes in the College of Arts and Sciences.
The general education classes are taught by about 10 faculty members, said Tim Baker, an associate professor of management science and member of the Resident Faculty Organization’s executive committee.
If the program continues to grow as quickly, Baker said contractual class load limits are going to be exceeded.
When instructors are hired to work at the university, they follow one of two career paths. Either they are pursuing tenure, or they are clinical faculty.
The contract for tenure-seeking professors limits them to teaching two classes. They are supposed to use their remaining time pursuing the other requirements of tenure, such as publishing papers, writing books or doing research.
The contract for clinical faculty limits them to teaching three to four classes.
“Faculty have been forced to exceed their maximum teaching loads, and that’s not kosher with the main campus,” Baker said. “If their teaching load is supposed to be four classes, you can’t all of the sudden change that. Unless they’re going to renegotiate the contract.”
Faculty members are concerned a sudden influx of students would mean hiring under-qualified instructors to teach the classes, he said.
“The chancellor wants to be very aggressive (with recruiting students),” Baker said. “The faculty believe it needs to be more gradually implemented, so they aren’t blindsided.”
WSU expects the students to take general education classes, but the students also take different courses, Dennison said.
“They also enroll in other classes that will be in line with their future majors, such as business, mathematics, pre-nursing, viticulture and enology and engineering,” he said.
Administrators do not expect faculty to cover more classes than their contracts.
“The faculty is the heart and soul of our campus,” Dennison said. “Our faculty (members) always work within the scope and spirit of their contracts.”
The community and the state wanted to have the program on campus, Dennison said.
Running Start students in Pullman and Colfax can take classes at Pullman’s main campus, and people wanted to know when the Richland campus would allow students to do the same.
The number of students able to participate at the Pullman campus is small, Dennison said.
Baker countered that the Pullman campus is large, and easier able to handle the extra students.
Faculty members are concerned the costs of the program are higher than the benefits of having the additional students, Baker said.
Administration officials said the state contributes $197 per credit, so if a student takes an introductory English course, the state would contribute $591 to the university.
In comparison, a part-time student pays $587 per credit, so the student would pay $1,761 for the same introductory English course.
Baker said the discrepancy leads some faculty members to question whether the program is financially viable.
If the goal is to convert students to WSU, Baker said the faculty needs to see hard data showing the amount of students continuing their education at the Tri-Cities campus.
Dennison said the program’s first year was successful — eight of the 17 students who went on to post-secondary education continued at a WSU campus.
“For the most part, these students do very, very well here,” he said. “They have a very high GPA when they’re admitted. We have our own Running Start department that can support them.”
The faculty members want to work with the administration to reach a solution, Baker said.
“The faculty see it’s a good program to have, but it needs to be phased in more gradually,” he said.
One of the suggestions for curbing the program’s growth is instituting a minimum grade point average requirement.
“Setting caps on enrollment is not really viable,” Baker said. “By upping the entrance requirements, we get the program phased in at a doable rate.”
Both sides expressed optimism that they can agree on a way to move forward.
“I think it’s a good thing that everyone is getting together and talking,” Dennison said. “They’ll be able to get together and address any of the concerns the faculty may have.”
Baker noted an advisory committee for Running Start now has a faculty member involved.
“When this program was first initiated, faculty (wasn’t) part of it,” he said. “We now have an advisory board and faculty are on it.”