Debate ‘Running Start’ decision

Recently we had our last graduation party for our youngest of four kids. Although we sent our kids to Lynden Christian, if there was a debate I could argue vigorously for all the options: public, private or homeschooling. I’ve seen all three used properly and not too properly. But this is about that question all high school students and their parents face: “Do we do Running Start?”

Running Start is offered to grades 11 and/or 12 where they can get college level credits while they finish their high school diploma. The classes are at the community and technical colleges. Although the student pays a nominal amount for books and fees, the college tuition is free. That’s right … zero. And students can still participate on school sports teams and the graduation ceremony as they are considered enrolled in the public high school.

People usually have very strong opinions on this topic. With in-state tuition alone at four-year universities being $11,000 per year (not including room and board), some say you are crazy not to participate. Others argue it is crucial for the student to get the full high school experience, graduate with their classmates, and mature.

As with most things in life, the answer is not that simple. Just as college is good for a lot of people, it is not for everyone. Same for Running Start. There are numerous factors, I believe, that should determine what is best for each individual person. Maturity level being one of the most important.

Straight As do not equate to “ready for college.” Ironically, a student who is just not in sync with the high school experience, and has only decent grades, might be better suited for RS. Some students have their circle of friends who make bad choices and might want a fresh start. Then you have some that are academically and emotionally mature enough, but choose not to because they want to run for class office, or want to take a certain teacher’s English Lit class, or maybe are dating.

There is no magic formula. Parents need to consider everything. And parents also need to be aware that it’s not only private schools that might be biased from tuition. The public high school gets roughly $3,000 less from the state if the student attends RS. While $3,000 also goes to the college; $3,000 per student is real money in these days of cut-backs.

But just because someone might be biased, it doesn’t mean they are wrong! That school counselor might be encouraging your student to stay in high school for very, very good reasons. Although the parent always knows their child best, I think it would be borderline irresponsible to not sit down with the counselor, some teachers, youth pastor, and hear their point of views. This is not their first rodeo.

And just because it might be good fit for your oldest, doesn’t mean a thing with your next child. “We always do RS” could be asking for trouble.

We have four children. Two went all four years at Lynden Christian and two did only their senior year through RS. That is a key point. There is enormous maturity difference between a student leaving their sophomore year in high school and a year later. Some kids have barely processed puberty, some have only been able to drive for a few months (age 16), many have never had a job. And they are off to college? Think about that.

Personally, I believe exceptionally few students are emotionally ready for RS their junior year.

Now let’s say someone does do RS for both years. They have an AA degree and most are off to a four-year school. But now they are 18 and jumping into classes with 20 year olds as they enter their junior year of college. So again, that is not an easy transition.

Most freshman live in dorms. For some campuses it is mandatory and for good reason. Dorms are where students meet many new people with diverse backgrounds and every possible major. To jump into a group who have known each other for two years and now heading into the heart of their major is not that simple.

Think of that 18 year old from the grad party you attended. Imagine them attending 300 level classes in September at WSU with soon to be 21 year olds. Brutal transition.

So when you hear opinions on Running Start, there is no right or wrong. The only wrong is to not take the decision very seriously. If you might have made the decision too quickly for your student this Fall, it’s not too late to tap the brakes and do a thorough review. It’s not always greener on the other side.

G. Todd Williams lives in Lynden.

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