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Abigail Carr

First-gen student gets jump-start on college

Popular Running Start program offers students the ability to save money and take college classes while in high school

Growing up in a household below the poverty line, college seemed an unlikely prospect for Abigail Carr. Yet thanks to Yakima Valley College’s Running Start program, Carr is one hundreds of local high school students whose aspirations are getting a lifeline.

YVC’s Running Start program offers eligible high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to enroll in college classes at YVC’s Yakima and Grandview campuses and receive both high school and college credit. The program, which began in the early 1990s, allows students to save thousands of dollars in tuition costs and speed up the time it takes to complete a degree and enter their desired profession. It is open to public, private and homeschool students in the Yakima Valley.

During its 25-year history, Running Start has grown into a nationally-recognized program that has experienced significant enrollment growth locally and across Washington state. Director Hillary Emerson noted that Running Start can be particularly beneficial in supporting the college aspirations of low-income, first-generation and minority students.

First-generation college student Abigail Carr has found YVC’s program useful in getting a jump-start on her college education.

Carr was born in Kirkland and moved to the Yakima Valley when she was 8 years old, spending most of her academic career in the West Valley School District. She enrolled in YVC’s Running Start program during the fall of 2020.

“I choose YVC’s Running Start program because it’s honestly free college credits, and a lot more flexible than high school has been. It’s a perfect opportunity to shave off two years of paying for college, especially given my family [is] living below the poverty line,” stated Carr.

In addition to the flexibility of YVC’s program, Carr also enjoys the knowledge and passion expressed by faculty in their teaching — providing a great start to her college career.

“The professors are also very willing to be helpful if you reach out, and the same goes for your advisors,” she continued.

Without YVC’s Running Start program, Carr doubts a college degree would be within her grasp.

“This was an unprecedented opportunity to work towards college credits, especially during the quarantine,” Carr said. “No other program, College in High School (CHS) or Advanced Placement (AP) otherwise, would have netted me an associate [degree] by the end of it!”

She graduates in June 2022 with an associate in arts degree. In the fall she’ll transfer to Pacific Lutheran University and pursue a bachelor’s degree in education with the goal of becoming a teacher.

She hopes others will take advantage of this unique program.

“[Running Start] is an opportunity you shouldn’t pass up, especially if you are low income,” Carr said. “You only have to pay for your books per quarter, you get to experience college life, and you can get an associate [degree] before you are even out of high school.” —  Abigail Carr

Running Start students can take any course offered at YVC and other community colleges as long as they meet the prerequisites. Students can enroll full- or part-time, which gives them the opportunity to use the program to meet their individual needs. In addition to shortening the time needed to earn a degree, credits earned through Running Start can make it easier for students to earn a second major, study abroad or complete a graduate degree.

Running Start has been successful in helping more students on their pathway to a college degree. About 76% of Running Start students who graduated from high school during the 2014-15 academic year enrolled in a two- or four-year college after high school, compared to only about 55% of students who did not take Running Start courses, according to data from Washington’s Education Research & Data Center.

At YVC, Emerson said the Running Start program has experienced a high growth rate, with fall quarter enrollment growing by 25% in each of the last five years. Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, she noted YVC has witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of Running Start students attending full-time (15+ credits) with the rate rising to 86% in fall 2021 from the 64% of full-time students in fall 2019.