CONCORD — With no one else in her family going to college, Concord High senior Rosima Darjee wasn’t sure if college was for her — or if she’s college material. But college credit for classes she takes in high school through a program called Running Start has convinced her that she wants to continue her education.
Now, Darjee said, she knows more about what to expect from a college course and the benefits of a four-year degree. It also helps get cheap college credit.
Darjee, an aspiring accountant, had run the numbers—it was hard to make sense of the college’s debt load. But Running Start courses cost $150 each — less for students from low-income families. And New Hampshire students can take some science, technology, engineering, math, and careers courses for free through a state-funded program.
“Learning what college can do this year is getting me more into college,” Darjee said. She even dreams of a Harvard MBA one day.
Running Start allows high school students to get credit for certain courses at their high school from the community college. The program has been around for more than 20 years, but as schools and students recalibrate their educational needs in the wake of COVID-19, the federal government is asking states to expand such dual-enrollment programs that help students earn college credit while they are still studying secondary school.
The New Hampshire community college system hopes the state legislature will allocate funds to help more students take advantage of the program.
Nationwide, more white students than black students are enrolled in dual enrollment courses, and students from wealthier families are more likely to participate in dual enrollment programs than their peers from poorer families.
In New Hampshire, student access to the most affordable and convenient form of dual enrollment is entirely dependent on where a student goes to high school.
Running Start is available in about 100 New Hampshire high schools, said Beth Doiron, director of college entrance programs for the New Hampshire Community College System.
Public, charter, and private high schools can offer college credit through partnerships with the state’s community colleges. Each community college has a staff member who coordinates with the high school teachers and ensures that the curriculum is consistent with what is being taught at the community college. Students who enroll in the course and enroll in Running Start are eligible for college credit if they pass with a minimum of C+.
The program makes it easy for students to earn college credit without having to travel to college a few times a week and without basing all credit on a single exam, as in the Advanced Placement program.
The disadvantage? What is available depends entirely on where you go to high school. While some schools, such as Concord High, have dozens of Running Start classes, smaller schools may only offer one. And although the community college system offers some online courses in partnership with the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, students must purchase their own textbooks.
Running Start has grown a lot since it started in 1999.
In the 2004-05 school year, nearly 3,000 students were enrolled in 397 Running Start courses. Nearly 7,000 students took part in Running Start courses last school year. This semester, she said, more than 6,000 students are enrolled in about 8,000 classes.
While the program is widely used, it has yet to become the universally accessible launch pad for post-secondary education that it should be.
A significant bottleneck, Doiron said, is teachers with the kind of qualifications needed to teach at the college level.
“We don’t want to dilute the courses,” she said.
While more than half of New Hampshire’s teachers have a master’s degree, the community college system requires Running Start teachers to have graduate school credit, or better yet, a master’s degree, in the subject area they will be teaching. have a degree in this field.
While Fowler, the director of the Concord Regional Technical Center, could teach an economics class because she has a master’s in business administration and used to teach in the business administration department at Nashua Community College, a teacher with a master’s in education can’t lead a Running Start class.
The Concord Regional Technical Center has made a concerted effort to hire teachers with college-level teaching credentials, both those with advanced degrees and those with significant experience in technical fields.
Fowler introduced visitors to the school last week to an automotive technician with 20 years of experience, a veteran nurse, a graphic design teacher who ran a company for years, and a computer science and engineering teacher with advanced degrees in those fields.
But not every school can recruit this type of faculty, Doiron said.
The U.S. Department of Education recommended states consider funding ESSER (Emergency Relief Fund for Elementary and Secondary Schools) to make dual enrollment programs more accessible for students — and teachers.
New Hampshire’s community college system has used a grant from a foundation to fund graduate school for teachers who want to teach running-start courses, but last week the U.S. Department of Education suggested states think bigger — and the Consider using tens of millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds to help teachers fund higher education.
The US Department of Education believes that fees and lack of transportation are significant barriers, along with disqualifying requirements and the simple fact that not every student knows there is a way to get college credit.
The state legislature pays tuition for New Hampshire students to take up to two courses per year in certain subjects. In lieu of the regular $150 per course fee, students can receive the college-level course and college credit for free as long as they are taking a course in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, or a course in preparation for a specific career. But students who want to earn college credit for courses in world languages, history, social studies, English, and art must pay or seek a scholarship.
Mark Rubinstein, Chancellor of New Hampshire’s Community College System, said he hopes the Legislature will invest more in Running Start.
“This has a real benefit for students and families,” he said. Last school year, New Hampshire high school students earned 35,000 community college credits through Running Start, he said.
At full tuition, that’s $75 million worth of college credits, Rubinstein said, with the state covering nearly all of the costs.
“We can help families gain more access to post-secondary education. We can reduce the risk of debt,” Rubinstein said. “That’s probably one of the best returns the state can generate.”
Research has shown that students who are rated as “high performers” by their teachers are not the only ones who benefit from dual enrollment. “Middle-achieving” students saw the most significant improvements from dual matriculation courses, from better grades in high school to a higher chance of enrolling in a college or community college.
“I’ve had students get off to a fast start and become more confident in their abilities,” said Rachel Hedge, a counselor at Central High School in Manchester. “It was beneficial for the students to look ahead and build confidence in themselves.”
That’s what Running Start was designed for, Doiron said. But she said the program is now dominated by high-performing students. Most Running Start participants are in the top 20% of their classes, she said.
“We’re trying to reach students who may not be as ranked academically in their high schools,” Doiron said. Most often, however, Running Start is used by students who are already in Advanced Placement or other Honors classes — with some Advanced Placement courses also qualifying students for Running Start credits.
Students like Concord’s Ryder Fiske and Will Richards, both seniors, said they had long planned to go to college and Running Start will help them progress with credits. Fiske said he hopes the head start will get him enough credits in his intended major – criminal justice – to consider a double major in music. Richards said he hopes to apply to colleges as a transfer student and hopes that if he doesn’t start as a freshman, he can get into more competitive schools.
But program leaders say Running Start can bring even more benefits to students like Darjee — students who are now on their way to post-secondary education. The question now, Doiron said, is figuring out how to get more of these students into the program.
Making the Grade is coverage dedicated to education coverage in New Hampshire, with a particular focus on Manchester and the challenges faced by students in the state’s largest school district. It is sponsored by the New Hampshire Solutions Journalism Lab at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and funded by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Northeast Delta Dental, the Education Writers Association, and the Institute for Citizens & Scholars.