Saturday, November 3, 2007

Running Start and Ruining Budgets

High school juniors and seniors who can pass the community college placement test may be eligible to take classes for credit. These classes are free to the student, and many kids are able to complete an Associate's degree by the time they finish the requirements for a high school diploma. This program has been useful to many families which might struggle with tuition and students who were not socially at home in the high school setting.

The increasing popularity of this Running Start program is taking a budgetary toll on the state's community colleges. The Olympian reports that there is currently a "$34.5 million budget shortfall at Washington's community and technical colleges. At South Puget Sound Community Collece (SPSCC), the gap is about $1.5 million."

That means there's less money to pay for student counselors, advisers and building equipment and maintenance, SPSCC officials said. The reduced funding is more important each year as other expenses — such as utility costs — increase, officials said.

"It puts more of a squeeze on us to figure out how we're going to pay for things that cost us more," said Nancy McKinney, the college's vice president for administrative services.

The increasing popularity of Running Start prompted the state Board for Community and Technical Colleges this fall to ask the Legislature for an extra $7 million a year. The board hopes to increase that amount each year until it reaches the $34.5 million yearly shortfall. The Legislature will decide on the colleges' request next spring.

According to the board, colleges spend about $7,600 on each high school student completing a full-time program. But the state reimburses them just $4,500 for each student.

When Running Start started, the state reimbursements weren't as disparate, said Rhonda Coats, SPSCC vice president for student services.

It is hoped that the state will find some way to decrease the budgetary gap over time, rather than cutting this program.

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