Native Hawaiian and Filipino students are graduating on time at record rates from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, with Hawaiians tripling their level since 2010, according to the latest data.
“You don’t just see a spike in graduation rates; there’s an overall spike in Native Hawaiian student enrollment relative to the general enrollment,” said Willy Kauai, director of Native Hawaiian Student Services.
The graduation rates started out low, but progress has been dramatic in the past several years. As of 2010 just 10 percent of first-time freshmen of Hawaiian ancestry received their bachelor degrees within four years. This year that figure reached 32.3 percent.
And Filipino students now outpace the overall population at the Manoa campus in earning their bachelor’s in four years. Nearly 38 percent graduated on time this year, up from 17.5 percent in 2010 and above the 35.2 percent rate for all Manoa students.
The growth in graduation rates at UH Manoa has attracted national notice. The university received the 2017 Project Degree Completion Award from the Association of Public Land-grant Universities for its efforts. UH Manoa doubled its four-year graduation rate between 2010 and 2018.
“This is a great time to come to Manoa,” said Ronald Cambra, UH-Manoa assistant vice chancellor for undergraduate education. “Students can actually get into their classes and graduate on time if they are willing to put the work in.”
Still, it takes five years for the majority of students — 54 percent — to complete their bachelor’s degrees.
“A lot of students obviously do not make the four-year graduation for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is financial,” Cambra said. “Being able to get enough money to go to school consistently is a major challenge.”
The university’s graduation rates are now on par with the national average for public colleges and universities.
The National Center for Education Statistics tracks graduation rates over six years as a benchmark for many federal programs. UH Manoa’s six-year rate of 58.3 percent in 2016 nearly matches the national average of 59 percent at public institutions that year, the most recent national data.
A wide range of programs have been put into place to help students persist and matriculate on time, some geared specifically to Hawaiian and Filipino students.
“Native Hawaiian Student Services has been extremely successful in securing external funding,” Kauai said, adding that it has landed $15 million in federal funds over the last decade for recruitment and retention.
The office reaches out to prospective students, calling them individually, and holds new student orientations for transfers and incoming freshmen, Kauai said. Summer programs help ease the transition from high school to college. Students are connected with Native Hawaiian faculty, and some get a chance to do research — and get paid for it — through the ‘Oiwi Undergraduate Research Fellowship.
“We jumped in to create programs that would better engage our students with the Native Hawaiian faculty that are scattered through the academic disciplines,” Kauai said.
Christine Quemuel, director of student equity, excellence and diversity at UH Manoa, said programs that gear up students early for college have helped draw Filipinos, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders to Manoa.
“We have these bridges to help bring them in, but then the support systems are really what’s essential to make sure they’re successful once they’re here,” she said. “We help them find the right majors — not necessarily what their family wants, but what they want to be. That’s how you find success academically and personally.”
Undergraduates benefit from UH’s online tools that map out pathways toward degrees and help keep students on track academically.
“Like a GPS system, if a student deviates from their pathway, you get a warning,” Cambra said. “If you’re choosing something that’s off your pathway, that’s fine, but you need to be conscious about the fact that you’re making that decision.”
Academic advising is mandatory, he added.
“The first two years, every student must see an adviser before they register for classes,” Cambra said. “You can see the result. It’s been a dramatic increase in both the persistence as well as the graduation rate.”
UH-Manoa Interim Vice Chancellor David Lassner said he expects the improvement in graduation rates to continue. Among last year’s freshmen 79 percent returned as sophomores this fall, another historic high for the campus.
A pilot program launched by Kamehameha Schools and the University of Hawaii, Makalapua Na‘auao, is showing promise. About 150 Native Hawaiians, many of them first-generation college students, received scholarships at UH’s four-year campuses starting in 2016, along with peer mentoring, tutoring and counseling.
UH and Kamehameha Schools are tracking how the students fare, in hopes of making structural changes to improve Native Hawaiian success in higher education.
“This was meant to be a learning process to understand barriers to entry, barriers to persistence and how we can support students,” said Shawn Kana‘iaupuni, executive strategy consultant at Kamehameha. “The persistence rates are very high. Everybody’s feeling really positive.”
“To help these first-generation college students through the process is very hands-on — it’s called intrusive counseling or proactive counseling,” she said. “You’re texting them, you’re meeting with them weekly … whatever it takes.”
To keep the momentum going at UH, securing long-term funding is key, Kana‘iaupuni said.
“We are trying to keep our scan wide to look for potential partners that want to make a difference for an entire generation of people,” she said.
Full-time students at the University of Hawaii at Manoa represent various ethnic groups.
Pacific Islander 2%
All other 20%
Source: UH Institutional Research & Analysis Office, fall 2017