Kailua High School graduate Tiana Pittler has a lot more going on than the typical college coed. The 18-year-old single mother of two-year-old son Zachary is working on her associate’s degree at Windward Community College with the help of a program designed to increase college enrollment and graduation, called Paipai O Koʻolau or “Support of the Koʻolau.”
“It has really allowed me to use my [financial aid money] for him because they pay for my first year of college,” Pittler said. “It’s really helped me financially going to college because I was afraid that I was going to have a hard time paying for school.”
From 2013 to 2019, Paipai O Koʻolau has provided self-described “intrusive counseling” and high-touch wrap-around services to 316 students like Tiana, who have demonstrated financial need that creates a barrier to entering college.
“It’s amazing to see their journey and help so many individuals that maybe don’t think college is possible. Maybe timing, or for other reasons, and see them thrive and love it,” said Sarah Akina, advisor and director for Paipai O Koʻolau.
The program works. Paipai students graduate and transfer at rates almost double those of the general community college population. Many Paipai students are older, non-traditional students, 78 percent are Native Hawaiian and more than 95 percent are considered low-income. There are many success stories such as 38-year-old Duane Nalu Dias, a former drug addict who was incarcerated for two years and now wants to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work to help others who are trying to turn their lives around.
“People have faith in me and it gave me a better perspective of what I want to do and how to achieve it,” Dias said.
More than $2 million total
Paipai O Koʻolau recently got a big boost. The Harold K. L. Castle Foundation has committed a rare second-round of funding of $1.2 million on top of the more than $900,000 it gave to seed the program in 2013, for a total commitment of more than $2 million.
“This was a special impact grant and for us to do a second round of funding is unique,” said Castle Foundation’s Windward Program Officer Georgianna DeCosta. “It is because this partnership with Windward Community College is strong, the results are strong and Windward Community College is not afraid to be bold. The leadership, the team members are innovative and they are brave, and we are so proud to be their partners in this work.”
Paipai O Koʻolau students have already earned a total of 123 degrees, including 11 bachelor’s and two master’s degrees. The goal is to expand the program’s impact on student, college and community success.
Growing Paipai O Koʻolau
With the new five-year grant to expand the program’s infrastructure and with the support of other scholarship funders, Paipai plans to grow from a 50-student annual cohort to a hundred students. And Paipai’s best practices will be shared and implemented to help all Windward CC students succeed.
“This innovation, this type of work, is game changing,” said the Castle Foundation’s DeCosta. “We really see this as changing the lives and trajectory for not only the individuals, but families.”
Akina added, “Now we can dream bigger and think about how we can help or impact more lives and help more people come to college.”