You asked whether an 18-year old student enrolled in the Washington Running Start
program, in which eleventh and twelfth grade students take college courses at the
state’s community and technical colleges, may qualify for student benefits under Title
II of the Social Security Act. Specifically, you asked: (1) whether Running Start
courses qualify as secondary courses, since they fulfill requirements for completion
of high school, or whether they qualify as college courses because they are taken
at local colleges and also confer college credits; (2) if Running Start courses qualify
as secondary courses, whether a student attending Running Start at less than 20 hours
per week meets the requirements for full-time attendance.
Although Running Start students may earn college credits, they must be enrolled in
secondary school; thus they are considered secondary school students. In Washington,
secondary school students must attend school an average of 25 hours each week. A Running
Start student enrolled in school less than 25 hours per week ordinarily would not
be full-time, unless the secondary school considers the enrollment full-time.
SUMMARY OF FACTS
The Washington Running Start Program is a dual enrollment program that allows students
to simultaneously earn high school and college or university credits, with exemption
from paying tuition. Running Start is open to eligible eleventh and twelfth grade
students who have not yet received the credits required for the award of a high school
diploma. Students must enroll in a public high school to participate in Running Start
and they are not required to attend full-time.
Eligibility for Child’s Insurance Benefits by a Student 18 Years of Age
The Social Security Act provides for child’s insurance benefits for certain unmarried
dependent children of individuals who are deceased or entitled to Social Security
old-age or disability insurance benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d); 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a).
All citations to statutes and regulations are to 2012 versions, unless indicated otherwise.
An unmarried 18-year-old child may continue to be eligible for benefits if he or she
meets two requirements. First, the child must be a student in an elementary or secondary
school. A student may participate in a home school program or elementary or secondary
independent study program in accordance with applicable state law. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a)(1),
(2); POMS RS 00205.275, RS 00205.285. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.350(a), 404.367. Second, the child must be
attending school full-time. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1)(B); 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(c).
Student attending elementary or secondary school
Pursuant to the Program Operations Manual System (POMS), a child is considered a student
if attending an elementary or secondary school as determined under the laws of the
state or other jurisdiction in which it is located. POMS RS 00205.200(A). Each school the student attends during the period for which child benefits are
claimed must be an “educational institution.” POMS RS 00205.200, RS
00205.250(A). Public high schools are considered educational institutions, unless there is
evidence to the contrary. POMS RS 00205.250(B)(1).
The Washington Running Start Program is a dual enrollment program that allows students
to simultaneously earn high school and college or university credit, with exemption
from paying tuition. Wash. Rev. Code §§ 28A.600.280, 28A.600.300-400; Wash. Admin.
Code § 392-169-060. Running Start is open to eligible eleventh and twelfth grade students
who have not yet received the credits required for the award of a high school diploma.
Wash. Rev. Code § 28A.600.310(1); Wash. Admin. Code §§ 392-169-015, 392-169-020. While
enrolled in Running Start, students may earn high school credits from high school
and institutions of higher education, and credits are applied toward at least the
earning of a high school diploma. Wash. Rev. Code §§ 28A.600.310, 28A.600.350; Wash.
Admin. Code § 392-169-015. Funds are allocated to the school districts and apportioned
to the institution of higher education based on enrollment. Wash. Rev. Code § 28A.600.310(3).
To be eligible for Running Start, students must enroll in a public high school in
a district that has decided to participate in Running Start. Wash. Rev. Code § 28A.600.310(1).
Running Start is open to students who are home schooled or in private schools, although
they must enroll in public high school for purposes of the Running Start program (but
not to meet public school academic requirements). Wash. Rev. Code § 28A.600.310(1);
Wash. Admin. Code § 392-169-020.
The issue of whether participants in Running Start are considered to be attending
high school has not been litigated in Washington. Nonetheless, one appellate court
noted a litigant did “not challenge the trial court’s determination that K.A.M. was enrolled in ‘high school’ when she attended . . . [c]ollege through the Running
Start Program” and a skills center. In re K.A.M., 145 Wash.App. 1032 (Wash. App. 2008), available at 2008 WL 2640707, at *4 n.5 (citing
Wash. Rev. Code § 28A.600.160 and concluding that a fifth-year high school student
attending Running Start college courses “was attending courses in pursuant of her
high school diploma”) (nonprecedential unpublished opinion).
Under the POMS, a student may be eligible for benefits if, among other requirements,
he or she is attending an educational institution “that provides elementary or secondary
level courses (courses at grade 12 or below) (RS 00205.200).” POMS RS 00205.001(A). A program or course is considered to be “grade 12 or below” if taken in a college,
community college, vocational, or technical school “if the program is approved as
a secondary level school program by the board of education of the State or other local
jurisdiction in which the school is located.” POMS RS 00205.200(B)(2). Running Start students may earn high school credit (as well as postsecondary
credit) for taking postsecondary classes, and approval is made by the board of education.
Wash. Rev. Code §§ 28A.230.090(1), (6), 28A.600.350; Wash. Admin. Code §§ 180-51-050,
392-169-050. Therefore, Running Start students receiving high school credits for college
courses would be attending an educational institution that provides secondary level
courses (courses at grade 12 or below).
Although a Running Start student may receive dual credit for college-level work, enrollment
in a public high school is required for participation in the program and the student
may not have earned a high school diploma. Thus, a Running Start student is considered
to be a secondary school student attending an educational institution as defined by
Student attending school full-time
The agency considers a student full-time if he or she is “in full-time attendance
as a student at an elementary or secondary school, as determined by the Commissioner
of Social Security (in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Commissioner)
in the light of the standards and practices of the schools involved.” 42 U.S.C. §
402(d)(7)(A). Generally, a student’s scheduled attendance must be in a course of at
least 13 weeks duration at the rate of least 20 hours per week, unless the school
considers the student to be full-time based on its standards and practices. Two exceptions
apply where: (1) the school’s standards do not require at least 20 hours of weekly
scheduled attendance for the student to be considered full-time and attending that
school is the student’s only reasonable alternative; or (2) the student’s medical
condition precludes 20 hours of attendance. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(c)(1)-(2); POMS RS 00205.310(A). 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b); POMS RS 00205.300(B), RS 00205.310(A). If the school’s standards require more than 20 hours of weekly scheduled attendance
for full-time attendance, the student must meet the school’s standards. RS 00205.300, RS 00205.310(A) (Note).
In Washington, each school must make available to high school students the minimum
instructional offering of at least 1,000 hours each school year. The minimum instructional
hours are to increase to at least 1,080 hours for students in grades 7-12, but not
before the 2014-15 school year. Wash. Rev. Code § 28A.150.220(2)(a). Wash. Rev. Code
§ 28A.150.220(2)(a). For purposes of compliance, the annual average hours high school
students attend school consists of 25 hours each week, or five hours (300 minutes)
each scheduled school day. Wash. Admin. Code § 392-121-122(1)(d). Nonetheless, students
are not required to attend school for any particular number of hours per day. Wash.
Rev. Code § 28A.150.220(4).
Students enrolled in Running Start may earn only high school credits or concurrently
earn both high school and college credits, and students may also be enrolled in high
school courses that confer no college credit. See Wash. Rev. Code §§ 28A.600.310,
28A.600.350. To determine whether students are attending school full-time when simultaneously
enrolled in a secondary level school and a secondary level program at a postsecondary
school, the courses and scheduled attendance are combined. POMS RS 00205.310(G).
A Running Start student is considered full-time if taking a course load of at least
15 credits or, if college or university courses are not denominated in quarter or
semester credits, an average of 25 hours of enrollment per week. Wash. Admin. Code
§ 392-169-025; see also Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Bulletin No. 033-12 (July 18, 2012),
available at http://www.k12.wa.us/bulletinsmemos/bulletins2012/B033-12.pdf. Running Start credits are calculated by the school district, with five quarter or
three semester hours equaling 1.0 high school credit. Wash. Rev. Code § 28A.230.090(6);
Wash. Admin. Code §§ 180-51-050(2), 392-169-050.
The school district must establish, on a course-by-course basis, the amount and type
of high school credit (required or elective), or combination, that is to be awarded
for each college or university course successfully completed by the student. Wash.
Admin. Code §§ 180-51-050, 392-169-050. If the college or university course is not
comparable, the school district superintendent determines the amount of credit to
be awarded, which must be done within 20 school district business days of a student’s
request for confirmation of credit. Wash. Admin. Code § 392-169-050(3). If students
are enrolled in a concurrent or combined high school and Running Start programs, calculations
are made for both programs. Thus, for example, a student enrolled in a regular high
school program for ten hours per week (one-third full-time equivalent (FTE)) and in
a college for ten quarter credit hours (two-thirds FTE) is enrolled the equivalent
of full-time. Wash. Admin. Code § 392-169-057(2).
There is no requirement that Running Start students must attend school full time;
this fact-specific determination is made by each school district based on the student’s
enrollment. A student attending Running Start at less than 20 hours per week ordinarily
would not meet the requirements for full-time attendance, which average 25 hours per
week for high school classes. However, the combined high school classes (calculated
by hours) and college classes (calculated by credits) must be considered. In accordance
with the POMS, a secondary school official confirms whether the student is enrolled
full-time. See RS 00205.350.
Evidence to establish enrollment and full-time status in Running Start
Under the POMS, Form SSA-1372 or its equivalent is used to determine full-time attendance.
RS 00205-350. Where a Running Start student attends high school and simultaneously
is enrolled in postsecondary courses for high school credit, the courses and scheduled
attendance are combined to determine whether the student is in full-time attendance.
RS 00205-310(F), (G).
In Washington, the superintendent of public instruction, state board for community
and technical colleges, and higher education coordinating board are authorized to
jointly develop and adopt rules governing the Running Start program. Wash. Rev. Code
§ 28A.600.390; Wash. Admin. Code § 392-169-005. As of July 2012, the Running Start
program required quarterly submission of a Running Start Enrollment Verification Form
(Form SPI 1674) signed by a high school counselor, a college Running Start representative,
the student, and a parent or guardian. The form indicates in how many high school
(and skills center) classes the student will be enrolling for the fall, winter, or
spring academic term. The form also requires information as to how many college credits
the student is eligible to earn without incurring college tuition costs based on the
high school FTE (up to a maximum of 1.2 FTE between the high school and college credits).
See http://www.k12.wa.us/SecondaryEducation/CareerCollegeReadiness/RunningStart.aspx; http://www.k12.wa.us/SecondaryEducation/CareerCollegeReadiness/pubdocs/RSEnrollmentVerificationFormFINAL.pdf.
The Running Start Enrollment Verification Form specifies, prospectively, the number
of high school classes and corresponding FTE, as well as the recommended college classes
and high school equivalency. A current signed Running Start Enrollment Verification
Form may be helpful in and calculating enrollment and determining whether the student
would be considered full-time. This form is, however, prospective and does not verify
the student’s actual course registration or attendance. Thus, the POMS procedures
for determining full-time attendance should be followed for a student in the Running
Start program, and a secondary school official should confirm whether the student
is enrolled full-time. See RS 00205.350.
Students enrolled in Washington’s Running Start program must be enrolled in eleventh
or twelfth grade in a public high school, and are considered high school students.
Whether a child is attending Running Start on a full-time basis will be a fact-specific
determination. A current signed Running Start Enrollment Verification Form may be
helpful in calculating full-time attendance, but the POMS procedures for determining
full-time attendance should be followed to verify attendance of students in the Running
Start program. See RS 00205.350.