BC Running Start program needs a budget revamp

To my surprise, the costs for a community college education is divvied up in our state.

The state of Washington subsidizes tuition for regular students, in 2018 this was to the tune of more than $5,500 per regular fulltime student. In addition to this, the average fulltime student pays $4,000 out of pocket per year. This means that for every regular fulltime student in community college in the state of Washington, the colleges receive nearly $9,500 per year.

But this is only the case for regular, paying students. For Running Start participants, the state pays $6,570 directly to the student’s home school district for each fulltime student. The school district then keeps 7 percent and pays the other 93 percent to the community college that the student attends. This is all of the money. RS participants pay nothing out of pocket. This means that for every fulltime RS student attending a community college, the colleges receive an estimated $6,100 per year.

The state’s 34 community colleges have said that this is not an adequate amount of money to cover the cost of a fulltime education, and this creates a hole in their budget. Community Colleges are not allowed to deny any students who can test into the RS program, and each time they take in an additional RS student they take a loss of over $3,400.

The state has over 26,000 RS participants in 2018, although not all are full time. The total loss that the community college system suffered for 2018 due to RS is estimated to exceed a whopping $66.7 million dollars.

As the popularity of the program grows and enrollment increases, this problem is bound to get worse and community colleges have to get increasingly resourceful in how they fight this deficit.

There are two ways to fight it: lower costs or get the money from somewhere. For cutting costs, this comes in the form of offering less classes to everybody, cutting student services and activities, delaying raises for faculty and staff and deferring upgrades/maintenance projects around the campus.

As far as getting money elsewhere, we all know that we can’t just print money on campus. So, the money comes from sources earmarked for other things. One such source has been money from the McCleary lawsuit, which many believe was supposed to be for teacher raises and has been a recent source of friction on the BC campus as the money has been spread out to other things as well. Another source has been vague fees charged to students.

Providing an opportunity for students to graduate high school with an associate’s degree in hand is a fantastic service that we provide in our state, but we need to find a way to do it that doesn’t cost the colleges money and detract from the quality of life and education of our teachers and our paying students.