College in the High School courses free for students in the 2023-24 school year



Beginning this fall, students attending public high schools in Washington state will no longer have to pay tuition fees to earn college credit through College in the High School programs statewide.

In a show of bipartisanship during this year’s legislative session, state lawmakers in both the House and Senate passed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5048 without a dissenting vote.

The measure requires participating institutions of higher learning to provide enrollment and registration in CHS courses at no cost to eligible students in grades 9-12. It was signed into law on May 4 by Gov. Jay Inslee and took effect on July 23.

Previously, qualifying high schoolers had to foot the bill if they wanted to receive both college and high school credits for the higher-level CHS courses – taught by a certified instructor – without leaving their home campus. The maximum college tuition fee was $65 per credit, adjusted for inflation. In many cases, students could enroll in a class for free and receive a high school credit, but not college credit, without paying the tuition fee.

CHS differs from another popular program, Running Start, which allows academically qualified high school juniors and seniors to attend classes at a nearby college tuition-free. In Running Start, school districts use a percentage of their state basic education apportionment funding to pay the college’s tuition costs up to the equivalent of two years of full-time enrollment.

Not all high schools have CHS programs, but they have generally been popular where offered. Statewide, over 50,300 high schoolers enrolled in such classes during the 2021-22 school year – the most recent year that data is available, said Katy Payne, executive director of communication and digital media for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Before that, enrollment still exceeded 47,400 high schoolers in the initial pandemic 2020-21 school year and more than 48,200 students in the prior 2019-20 school year.

The state formally established the CHS program in 2015 and adopted a specific administrative code the following spring. However, locally controlled partnerships between high schools and colleges have existed for a number of years, said Payne, noting the University of Washington website indicates that it has offered college curriculum in high schools since 1981.

Adoption of CHS courses is locally determined by school districts and the number changes annually, but there are 20 colleges and universities in Washington which offer such classes, said Payne.

Citing information from its website, Payne said Central Washington University in Ellensburg is one of the state’s largest providers, offering courses to 144 high schools. And it’s an eclectic catalog of offerings: CWU has 64 unique courses of study ranging from jazz dance to global economics to cultures of the ancient world, along with math, English, science, physical education, language classes, and more.

While high schoolers no longer have to pay tuition to receive college credits at their home campus, the state will pay a significant price to fund the revised CHS program.

In the current 2023-25 biennium budget, lawmakers appropriated about $15.43 million in four amounts “solely for the implementation of” the tuition waiver bill. Just over $8 million was allocated to Central Washington University, $5 million went to Eastern Washington University, $3.28 million to the University of Washington, and $7.47 million to the state’s community and technical colleges.

According to an analysis by the state’s Office of Financial Management, future funding amounts for the CHS program are forecast to drop to an estimated $10.7 million in biennial years 2025-27 and 2027-29.

State Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, was a prime sponsor of the CHS tuition-elimination measure. He is vice chair of the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee and serves on the Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee.

Mullet has tried to pass various iterations of legislation eliminating CHS fees in recent sessions, believing it was unfair that otherwise capable students who performed well in a class couldn’t receive college credits because they couldn’t afford the tuition fee, which might range up to $300 for a five-credit course.

In emailed replies to The Center Square for comment regarding the legislation, Mullet’s office said the law will enable more students to earn college credits, enhance their personal learning, possibly encourage them to continue on to college after high school, and make college more affordable because of those already-earned credits.

Additionally, the tuition waiver could result in a wider variety of courses becoming available at the high school level.

As enacted, colleges and universities will be reimbursed by the state based on the number of classes they administer the previous year. The colleges will take the fee and pay the instructor teaching the high school course, which is the current procedure. The reimbursement rate varies: $6,000 per CHS course administered by a state university, $5,500 per course administered by a regional university or state college and $3,500 to community or technical colleges, according to a legislative analysis.

“The goal of the bill is for the state to make an investment in allowing for a wider range of kids to receive college credit while in high school…while also proving to those that doubt their ability that they can succeed in college,” Mullet said.



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