The on-time graduation rate for students at the University of Hawaii at
Manoa has doubled in
the last decade and now matches the national average for public universities.
Ten years ago graduation rates at the flagship campus were notably low, but the university won a national award in 2017 from the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities for its success in pushing them up, and the rates have continued to climb.
“For me it’s an indication that we are at all levels simply doing our job better,” said Michael Bruno, UH-
Manoa provost, pointing
to a range of efforts by
administrators and faculty to help keep students on track. “Students are feeling part of the community, and our programs are delivering the courses they want and need to accomplish their degree.”
The four-year graduation rate — the goal of most parents — reached 36.6% for the class of 2019, up from 17.5% in 2010, according to the UH Institutional Research &Analysis Office.
That compares with the most recent national rate for public universities
of 36.9% in 2017, up from 32.9% in 2010, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The figures represent first-time, full-time freshmen who graduate from the institution where they originally enrolled.
“We are not satisfied with that figure,” Bruno said. “We know we need
to keep working.”
Hawaii residents outpaced those averages, with 43% of local public school graduates and 41% of local private school graduates earning their
degrees within four years of enrolling as first-time freshmen at UH Manoa.
“We pride ourselves on the fact that we are very focused on the success of students here in Hawaii,” Bruno said in an interview. “At the same time, we are one of the nation’s most successful research universities with tremendous accomplishments across
a lot of different sciences and different disciplines, including the humanities.”
UH Manoa’s overall six-year graduation rate for bachelor’s degrees, which is the benchmark used by the federal government, reached 60.5% this year, on par with the national average for public universities of 60%.
The university has adopted a range of tools to help students navigate toward their degrees. They include the STAR GPS registration system, launched early in 2017. The app helps students map their path to graduation as they select different classes, and alerts them on how each might affect their ability to graduate on time. It adjusts for different majors and minors.
Academic advising has also been beefed up and is mandatory for all students. For those who are undecided on their major, the Manoa Advising Center offers help in figuring their way forward, depending on their interests. Those who have already declared a major get help from their departments.
The push to offer some classes online or in hybrid format, combining in-person and online delivery, also has helped students get the credits they need while juggling various responsibilities, Bruno said.
“That’s a very popular format that is something we have been encouraging programs to explore,” he said. “Our students, particularly our local students, have a lot of pressures on their time. Some of it is related to family obligations; sometimes it’s related to their need to have a job or more than one job.”
Meanwhile, a small subset of top students is
hitting the accelerator toward graduate school at UH Manoa with the advent of the “BAM” program: combined bachelor’s and master’s degree pathways. It allows high achievers to earn both degrees in five years, shaving off at least a year of time and expense. A master’s degree typically requires two years of work on top of the four years needed for a bachelor’s.
Motivated students commit to a master’s degree early and take graduate- level classes in their senior year that count toward both degrees. BAM now has 14 pathways and expects to add more next year. About 50 students are in the BAM pipeline, according to Wendy Pearson, senior
adviser to the provost.
Current pathways include dual degrees in fields such as economics, computer science, engineering and political science. Some pathways are interdisciplinary, combining a bachelor’s in global environmental science with a master’s in public health or urban and regional planning, for example, or a bachelor’s in psychology with a master’s in educational psychology.
“For each of these pathways, there’s a gateway course, typically somewhere in the junior year,” Pearson said. “If a student does well in that course, it’s a good indicator that they may be a good candidate for graduate school.”
Students still have to pass the GRE or GMAT for programs that require those exams, have a GPA of at least 3.0 and be doing well in their major.
“We’re finding, as we’ve added this to our recruitment materials, we have students coming in as freshmen thinking about graduate school already, which is great,” she said. “We have so many students taking college-level coursework in their high school years, and they’re already projecting out what they want to be.”
The expedited graduate degree in second-language studies has proved attractive to nontraditional students, such as those with families returning to college to complete their bachelor’s.
“In terms of maturity, they are definitely ready
as well as motivated to take on higher-level work,” Pearson said.