Bill would make dual-credit high school/college courses more affordable for families

Legislation pending in Olympia could level the playing field for high school students who want to earn college credits.

There are now multiple paths — and multiple funding sources — for those classes. Some colleges and universities charge tuition for students who take college classes at their high schools, while others are tuition-free.

Senate Bill 5080 could make state funding more equitable and open some classes to more students, according to Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, who is sponsoring the bill.

“We now have several dual-credit programs out there, and they are doing good things,” Dammeier said. “The goal of this bill is to bring clarity and, to some degree, uniformity.”

Mark Vetter, director of instructional leadership for the Puyallup School District, said dual-credit options in his district vary among high schools. He said some are expensive for students, and that can create barriers for families who can’t afford it.

“This could be a game-changer for kids,” Vetter said of SB5080. “If you are in a dual-credit course, research shows that you will be more successful in whatever post-secondary pathway you choose.”

Currently, several state programs allow high school students to enroll in college courses:

• Running Start allows high school juniors and seniors to take classes at community colleges. It’s possible to complete the final two years of high school this way, earning both a diploma and an associate degree.

Running Start is popular because it gives students a leg up on their first few college years. And it’s generally tuition-free, although students often pay for books, lab and other fees, and transportation costs. In the 2013-14 school year, nearly 21,000 Washington students enrolled in Running Start. To pay for it, the state shifts money that would ordinarily go to a student’s school district to the college.

• College in the High School allows high school students to take college courses on high school campuses. More than 17,000 students statewide were enrolled in those classes in 2013-14. Colleges and universities may charge tuition; those fees are negotiated with school districts.

• A hybrid option, operated by Central Washington University and Eastern Washington University in at least 100 Washington high schools, is called Running Start in the High School. CWU and EWU started it to meet the needs of students in rural parts of the state — kids who can’t participate in traditional Running Start due to long distances between high schools and community colleges.

Dammeier’s bill would draw a clearer distinction between the programs. The hybrid program would no longer qualify for Running Start funding, but would convert to a College in the High School program.

The state would give school districts a minimum of $70 per credit hour for students who enroll in College in the High School. School districts would pay the colleges, and colleges could no longer charge students tuition and fees.

The bill also would allow high school freshmen and sophomores to enroll in College in the High School. And it would grant school districts flexibility to pay for textbooks and transportation for Running Start students.