“Running Start” Program Sees Influx of High School Students Taking College Courses

High school students can start taking classes at Flathead Valley Community College the summer after their sophomore year. That’s exactly when Whitefish High School Senior Molly Schmidt signed up with the Running Start Program taking classes in “chemistry, psychology, and geology,” Schmidt says this semester, in addition to her full course load as a senior at Whitefish High she is also taking 11 credits at F-V-C-C.

Schmidt is taking all her F-V-C-C courses online this semester, which works out well for her because after she gets out of school at 3:30, she heads to an afterschool job until about 6:30 in the evening. She will have earned her Associates of Science degree and, she says, completed sixty credits, by the end of this spring semester.

Because the community college wraps up before the high school she’ll actually have that degree before she gets her diploma at Whitefish High.

Running Start Coordinator for F-V-C-C Beth Romain says taking a full course load is not the norm; most high school students take a handful of courses alongside their regular high school requirements. Romain says the option taking college courses aims to give high school students the opportunity to take classes that may not be available at their school, and also provides an alternate for students who aren’t into the high school scene.

“We do see a small percentage of students that come through the Running Start program they were close to failing out of high school,” Romain said, “they come through this program, they’re getting straight A’s at college, and then it shows them that, ‘hey, I can do college, college isn’t just like high school,’ and I feel like we in a sense save them from dropping out. So, it’s not that- we see a wide variety of students, it’s not just the high-achieving, straight A students.”

Romain says the college has a 77-percent increase from last spring to this spring semester in high school students involved in the Running Start program. This semester the college instituted a two year pilot program that waives most costs for the first six credits taken at FVCC by high school juniors and seniors who test into the college level classes.

After those six credits the administration also lowered the tuition costs. Romain says there are more than 1-hundred-more students participating this semester than last spring, “so, a huge increase that just really goes to show that maybe those tuition costs were holding students back from that, and there’s many studies out there to show that students leaving high school with six or more college credits actually have a better completion rate when they go to college.”

The pilot program ends in 20-14 and the administration will take another look at it to see if it should end, continue, or change.

Molly Schmidt says one of the first courses she took at the community college steered her onto the career path she’s chosen. The class was Biological Psychology, and Schmidt says the class really grabbed her attention, sending her home with what she calls fun facts to share with her family.

“My favorite one is if you take your brain out of your head and put it on the table at room temperature, it will melt because the bonds that hold it together can’t withstand gravity unless it’s floating in a liquid like it does in your head,” Schmidt said she’s interested in being a researcher, looking into treating conditions like Parkinson’s disease. In the fall, she heads to prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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