When classes started Monday, Columbia Basin College administrators received a surprise.
While the Pasco college added 130 new students, increasing its enrollment from 6,813 to 6,951 students, the amount of Running Start students jumped by 20 percent.
The class of 1,077 high school juniors and seniors is largest Running Start group that Cheryl Holden, the college’s vice president of student services, has seen in her 16 years at the college.
The spike left college officials trying to figure out what happened — and how do they can repeat it.
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“We are going to be asking that question for the next year,” Holden said. “We did see a little bit of a fall off last year. Now we’ve made up that ground.”
Running Start is a program where high school upperclassmen can take courses at community colleges for college credit.
The program’s enrollment at WSU Tri-Cities almost tripled at the beginning of 2016, growing from 100 to about 270 students.
While WSU Tri-Cities reported 253 new freshmen, overall enrollment increased by 69 students between fall 2016-17.
The new classes don’t share a lot of traits, Holden said. About a third of the students, 359, are from Pasco’s two high schools.
We did see a little bit of a fall off last year. Now we’ve made up that ground.
Cheryl Holden, Columbia Basin College
The second largest group, 320 students, came from Kennewick schools.
Running Start participation doesn’t seem to follow a trend at Kennewick, either. It has fluctuated in the past four years from a high of 367 students in 2014 and a low of 261 students the next year.
Richland saw 176 students attend CBC.
Outlying districts also contributed to the growth, with students coming from Mattawa, Omak, Goldendale and Othello.
College officials do have some suspicions about the surge. Frank Murray, the college’s communications director, pinned the change to changes in the marketing campaign.
They began promoting Running Start last year during winter and spring quarters.
The college has been going to high schools, college fairs and high school parent nights.
“We want to reach the students, but it’s more important to reach the parents. They pay the bills,” he said.
The college also increased its efforts to collect open its doors to perspective students.
“We’re continuing to have more face to face experiences between students and staff,” Holden said.
Another explanation might simply be an increase in enrollment at area high schools. Pasco reported the majority of the increase in its population happened at high school. Richland and Kennewick reported growth as well.
“That could just be the bottom line,” Holden said. “If the classes in the high school are increasing, we could just be getting more students.”