While Hawaiʻi’s public high school class of 2020 achieved the highest on-time graduation rate ever recorded with 86% of students graduating on time, it also experienced the steepest decline in college enrollment over one year, with 50% for the class of 2020 enrolling in college immediately after graduation, as compared to 55% for the class of 2019. That’s according to the annual College and Career Readiness Indicators Report (CCRI) which is published by Hawaiʻi P–20 Partnerships for Education.
The pivot to virtual learning, compounded with the public health and economic crisis and other disruptions caused by the pandemic affected all students; however, those with fewer resources to begin with may have experienced greater hardship. Thirty-eight percent of students from economically disadvantaged households enrolled in college in 2020, compared to 44% the year earlier, and students who identify as Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, also experienced larger declines in college enrollment. Thirty-five percent of Native Hawaiians in the class of 2020 enrolled in college compared to 44% in the class of 2019, and 29% of Pacific Islanders enrolled, compared to 35% the year before.
“This pandemic’s negative impacts were not equal across socio-economic and demographic groups. The good news is that this data is being used by public high schools and UH campuses as the basis for shared and immediate planning and action,” said Stephen Schatz, executive director of Hawaiʻi P–20 Partnerships for Education.
Hawaiʻi’s public school graduates enrolled in college at higher rates than students across the nation. A preliminary study by the National Student Clearinghouse found that enrollment of high school seniors immediately after graduation decreased to 27.7%, from 35.3% the year before. Hawaiʻi’s public school class of 2020 graduates’ college enrollment decreased to 50.2% from 54.7% for the class of 2019. Despite this drop, enrollment of Hawaiʻi’s senior class to UH campuses remained steady throughout the previous year, at 32%.
As schools transitioned to virtual learning in March 2020, Hawaiʻi P–20, UH Community Colleges, the Hawaiʻi State Department of Education and community partners quickly devised a program called Next Steps to Your Future to support the class of 2020’s transition to higher education. Students were offered the opportunity to take free summer career exploration courses at the UH Community Colleges, and if they opted, were teamed with academic counselors and advisors for one-on-one support through virtual meetings and text messages. All of the 2,154 students who participated in Next Steps to Your Future were also eligible for $2 million in scholarships, funded by the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation and First Hawaiian Bank.
“Vital work continues to advance our high school graduates toward achieving their college aspirations, despite the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Department of Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto. “Collaborations with UH campuses and community partners have helped our college readiness programs to keep students motivated and focused on their higher education goals.”
Students in the class of 2021 are encouraged to sign up for Next Steps to Your Future for free classes at UH community colleges, free advising and the opportunity to receive scholarships designated for participants.
“We continuously work to smooth the pathways for Hawaiʻi’s public school graduates to advance themselves by enrolling in a University of Hawaiʻi campus,” said UH President David Lassner. “Next Steps to Your Future is an amazing program for the classes of 2021 and 2020 that provides free support, encouragement and a head-start on college to help our recent high school graduates continue on pathways that lead to better futures.”
UH and Hawaiʻi P–20 have been working with the Hawaiʻi State Department of Education for more than a decade, collaborating to strengthen alignment between high school and college so that more students make a successful transition to postsecondary education. Efforts have included reviewing and revising placement policies to allow students to be placed in college-level courses based on their achievements in high school, offering dual-credit courses that allow high school students to earn both high school and college credits while in high school, and a number of other programs and activities to boost student achievement and success in higher education.
Hawaiʻi’s CCRI reports are continuously recognized by national organizations, including the Data Quality Campaign, Achieve, and the National Governors Association, as a leading example of collaboration between K–12 and higher education and for providing useful information on college readiness.