WA Running Start enrollment drops as high school students pause college coursework

Valentine Wulf doesn’t need to spend days preparing to write an essay for school. That’s why the 16-year-old prefers taking English at North Seattle College — she’s ready to just start writing.

“The pace moves a lot faster … there’s less time that is spent just sitting in a classroom doing things to get ready to do the assignment,” said Wulf. She was already considering taking a class at the college, and a push from her high school English teacher sealed the deal.

But this year fewer students are thinking like Wulf, who is enrolled in Running Start, the state program that allows students to earn college credits while working toward their high school diploma. 

Enrollment has plummeted by about 14%, after years of steady increases. 

A variety of factors are fueling the drop, including a desire by many to have a normal high school experience instead of hashing out logistics to take college classes that have continued mostly online. Some students say after two years of disrupted pandemic learning, they don’t feel ready for college yet.

That has many higher education experts worried. They’re working to underscore the program’s benefits: college credits earned tuition-free in high school can save students thousands of dollars down the road, especially for those who earn their associate degrees.