The face of Columbia Basin College is getting younger.
The Pasco-based community college’s enrollment continued to climb this fall thanks to a program that funnels hundreds of high school students into its classrooms.
CBC’s fall quarter enrollment jumped by 324 students from 6,951 students last year to 7,275.
And about 19 percent of this fall’s enrollment is high school juniors and seniors from the Running Start program. That’s up from nearly 15 percent last year.
Cheryl Holden, the college’s vice president of student services, said last year’s class of 1,077 Running Start students was the most she’d seen in 16 years at the college. And this year, high schoolers account for 1,347.
“I’ve watched it go from 400 students to 1,300,” she said. “We leveled off for a couple years ... but it’s come back.”
The Running Start program gives high schoolers a chance to earn an associate’s degree by the time they graduate high school.
That allows parents and students to save on higher education costs by giving them college credits often at a lower cost, according to the Community College Research Center.
“It’s a great opportunity for students to get a jump on their college education,” Holden said. “It’s good for students and it’s good for families.”
While students are still responsible for paying for fees and books, the tuition is paid by the state through the school district.
It’s the growing student population overall in the Tri-Cities that she credits for the increase in Running Start. Enrollment at all of the school districts is continued to climb this year.
The move also may be part of a larger trend across the state and nation of increasing enrollment in programs that offer college classes to high school students.
The state is approaching 30,000 students in Running Start and nationally the programs drew in more than 1 million. Washington State University Tri-Cities in Richland also offers a Running Start program.
The Running Start program has a good record as well.
Three-quarters of the participants who finished high school in 2014 went on to a college or university, compared to just over half of the students who didn’t go into Running Start, a retrospective from the Seattle Times’ Education Lab said.
Holden said the high school students are not treated any differently than the older students. And, according to the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges, they often perform better on average than their counterparts.
“Some of the main points are they can complete two years of college with minimal costs, and they have an opportunity to take classes that aren’t offered at their high school,” she said.