Spokane Journal of Business

Spokane Community College offers Running Start For Careers

Students can earn diploma along with trade degree

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Spokane Community College’s Jessica Dempsey and Kevin Brockbank have championed the new Running Start for Careers program.

Spokane Community College has launched a program aimed at placing high school students on a path to a career in the trades and providing another workforce pipeline for local employers.

Running Start for Careers has been in the works for about a year, says Jessica Dempsey, SCC dual enrollment manager. The program was created in 2019 after the Washington state legislature passed House Bill 1599.

At a meeting before the bill was signed, Dempsey says she and Doug Edmonson, executive director of career and technical education and technology at Mead School District, realized they could build on the state’s Running Start program and tailor it to college trade degrees.

About 70 Running Start for Careers students are involved in 21 trade degree or certificate programs now, Dempsey says. Those programs include paralegal, hydraulics, welding, and fire science.

SCC President Kevin Brockbank says Running Start for Careers was created in part to address issues of equity. Prior to this fall, Running Start was geared exclusively toward high school students on the path to a four-year degree.

“But the students who already know they want to be in a professional technical career … didn’t have that opportunity,” Brockbank says. “If you’re a high school student and you want to pursue one of those careers, you should have the same opportunity as a student who wants to pursue a transfer degree.”

Brockbank says trade degrees can be especially difficult for low-income students to access because Running Start students are responsible for any costs beyond state-paid tuition.

“One of the places students get caught on is professional tools,” Brockbank says. “If you want to go into the automotive program, for example, one of the requirements of that is to have professional tools. It’s about $2,000 right away. If you’re in culinary, you have a set of knives that are about $600 to start with. If you’re a low-income student who doesn’t have the resources to buy a $600 set of knives and a chef’s hat, we’ve just excluded that group from that opportunity.”

To help address these barriers, the Community Colleges of Spokane Foundation has launched an initiative to raise scholarship funds for students for books, course fees, and equipment. That initiative last month won Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines’ Strong Communities award in the urban division and was awarded $15,000.

Sharon Robertson, donor relations manager at Community Colleges of Spokane Foundation, says the goal for the initiative is to raise $500,000. She says she expects to announce a major gift within the next few weeks, which will put the initiative at about 20% of its total funding goal.

Brockbank says that the current cohort of Running Start for Careers students is paying for books and tools.

“Our work with the Foundation is just in its initial stages,” Brockbank says. “We have some money coming in, but not enough to provide this open-door scholarship opportunity for students yet. We need more investment from the philanthropy side of things to get this propped up for more students who don’t have the resources at home to do this.”

After the legislation passed, Dempsey began working with Mead High School counselors to create a course of study that would satisfy high school graduation requirements and college trade degree requirements.

Aligning each participating high school’s graduation requirements with SCC courses has been the most challenging part of implementing Running Start for Careers, she says.

“That was the most difficult piece: what are the 24 credits you need to graduate from high school, and how do we make that happen in each of these programs?” Dempsey says. “It’s about looking at a program and working with the high school to say okay, this aligns, the theory of brakes is now counting as a science — (those students) don’t have to take chemistry.”

Her colleague Edmonson says that of the 21 trade degree programs SCC offers through Running Start for Careers, Mead High School uses 16; the other five are similar to programs Mead already offers.

Edmonson says he knew when pitching the idea to Mead School District Superintendent Shawn Woodward that making Running Start for Careers an option for Mead students would mean fewer students enrolled in Mead schools full-time. That would mean less funding from the state for Mead schools.

“Running Start programs retain 93% (of funding), and we get 7%,” Edmonson says. “We will lose dollars. But we’re doing what’s best for the kids.”

The original Running Start program, in which about 300 Mead students are enrolled, started in 1992 and focuses exclusively on college-bound students. Edmonson says he saw the need for an equivalent for students interested in the trades.

“If a kid wants to go be a welder, and that’s all they want to do, why would we not help that student find that pathway through the community college to get their certification and graduate with a Mead diploma so they can go directly into that field after they graduate?” he says.

Dempsey says other local school districts also are getting involved in the program, including Central Valley School District, Deer Park School District, and NorthEast Washington Educational Service District 101.

“We’re working with the northern counties, like Stevens County, because we have specialized programs at Colville,” Dempsey says. “We’re working with those districts now to bring those programs on as well.”

The response from employers has been positive, Brockbank says.

“Employers have been really excited about the idea that we’re creating a secondary pipeline and getting more students in the door to that kind of training, which in turn creates more employees, but also exposes those students to those trades as real careers,” Brockbank says. “The more students we can graduate in those programs who have a desire to work in that field, the better job we’re doing of fulfilling our mission as a workforce education entity, and helping our local employers with quality graduates.”

Brockbank says SCC faces some risks in implementing the Running Start for Careers program. One possible consequence, he says, is that Running Start for Careers students could fill spots in some programs that would otherwise have been filled by traditional students.

Brockbank says he’s also concerned for students who end up struggling in both their Running Start program and in high school.

“Then there’s the fiscal liability,” he says. “There’s a lot of costs associated with Running Start students in those technical programs. That can add up quickly for us, whether we’re talking about tools or spaces or whether the revenue covers the costs. Any time you do something new, there’s the possibility that you missed something.”

Dempsey says that prior to Running Start for Careers, it was difficult for students to complete a trade degree concurrently with their high school education.

“In the past, they could do it, but it was complicated — they didn’t get a high school diploma or they had to work to find a way to get the high school diploma through us,” Dempsey says. “This simplified it.”

Brockbank says he wants to see 200 to 300 students enrolled in Running Start for Careers. He also wants to expand the number of programs in which Running Start for Careers students can enroll.

“Some of the programs we have on campus are a little more challenging to put in the career pathway, because of age requirements for clinical settings, health care programs in particular,” Brockbank says. “But as we get a little more experience under our belts and figuring out how this works, then we’ll start working on the programs that are a little bit more difficult to make pathways into.”

Virginia Thomas
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Reporter Virginia Thomas has worked at the Journal since 2017 and covers the health care industry. As a reporter, she loves learning about Spokane's many growing industries. She enjoys traveling with her husband, snuggling with her cats, and cross stitching.

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