This year, 86 Bethel students graduated with a high school diploma in one hand and an associate’s degree the other, said superintendent Tom Seigel.
That number is expected to climb for Bethel schools in the future with the opening of Pierce College at Spanaway.
For the first time this fall, students at Spanaway Lake High School can take free college-level courses during the day without having to leave campus, saving thousands in tuition. One five-credit course at Pierce College costs roughly $600.
“Kids who face challenges having to do with transportation or having funds to attend college can do it while they still stay at their home high school,” Seigel said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday.
Seigel said the area’s bus system is lacking and that transportation is a barrier for students interested in Running Start or earning college credit prior to graduation.
Called a “neighborhood college” by Pierce College, the classrooms are located at a portable on the Spanaway Lake High School campus.
Classes also are available to working adults seeking college degrees.
There are 28 students signed up for the classes, with the capacity to hold 216, said Deb Davolio, program manager for Pierce College. Classes offered include College Success, English Composition 1, Research Essentials and Introduction to Statistics.
“Those are the four course that almost everybody needs to take in order to get started on any one of the paths toward a degree,” Davolio said. “We’ll be increasing capacity as we go.”
By winter quarter, the goal is to add humanity and science classes.
Spanaway Lake High School is Pierce College’s second neighborhood location, also in the Bethel School District. Evening classes are offered at Graham-Kapowsin High School, with about 50 percent of high school students and 50 percent adults among the roughly 125 students enrolled.
Officials hope the “neighborhood college” can be a model for other districts statewide.
Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier said Tuesday that 37.5 percent of Pierce County’s population has at least a two-year degree, which is behind King, Snohomish, Thurston and Kitsap counties.
“We know that good family-wage jobs require training beyond high school, and we know that in Pierce County we’re behind in producing them,” Dammeier said.
Already, Pierce College and Bethel schools are discussing opening another model at the new Bethel High School, said Pierce College Chancellor Michele Johnson.
“We would love to have a full campus with them as a full pilot,” Johnson said.
The campus would likely consist of about four classrooms to start.
“It’s not the same world that it was 20, 30, 40 years ago,” Johnson said. “Now, it’s so critical to have some kind of education or training beyond high school.”