The unsung and the unprepared: Whitworth’s running start students

by Emma Maple | Staff Writer

It’s Orientation Day. I’m sitting on the lawn. First-year and transfer students surround me. A man asks, “If you’re a transfer student, raise your hand.” I lean over to my roommate, who also has Junior standing. “Is that us?” She shrugs and looks as confused as I feel. As a high school student with college credits, I’m never quite sure where I belong in the college sphere.

Per Whitworth’s acceptance policy, Running Start students are freshman, but with Sophomore or Junior status. According to Reagan Kissel, admissions counselor at Whitworth, this choice is an effort to make the transition into college life easier. By being labeled as freshmen, Running Start students can live in all-freshman dorms and be included in activities for freshmen. This way, they are placed with same-age individuals who are also adjusting to college life.

While this policy allows students to be surrounded by their own age group, it also has major drawbacks. Whitworth does not have any specific programs for Running Start students to help us adjust to our distinct place on campus. Instead, Running Start students are funneled into first year seminars, in which the professor tends to assume that all the students are starting at ground zero, with four years ahead of them at Whitworth. This lack of leadership can create magnitudes of stress in our lives as we struggle to immediately declare a major and find an advisor. Traditional freshmen don’t have to feel this same pressure. They still have about two years of pre-requisites before they need to declare a major. Running Start students lose those decision-making years. A program or class designed for Running Start students could make a world of difference in our success at Whitworth.

Running Start students, although classified as freshmen, immediately begin taking classes with juniors or seniors, which can make them feel out of place. When I sat down in my Core 250 class, my professor was greeting many of the students by name. All around me, conversations were taking place as the seniors caught up with each other about their summer activities. Later, the professor mentioned that every student was a senior – except one. Upper division credits are more difficult than lower level credits, and Running Start students may struggle to acclimate to them.  One example is Whitworth’s core program, which progresses through Core 150, 250, and 350. Running Start students, like me, often jump straight into Core 350 because our advisors recommend that course due to its real-world application. These advisors may not realize the difficulties of taking the last class in a series, as some of the lectures may be harder to understand without the foundation of the other two Core classes.

Some may claim that Running Start students are a minority category, not important enough to have their own resources. However, according to Running Start Participation and Success, “in 2016-17, 26,303 students [in Washington] enrolled at the community and technical colleges through Running Start.” Having a first-year seminar designed specifically for those who did Running Start or took AP credits would help them acclimate to their unique position within Whitworth.