More Native Hawaiians Earn College Degrees

Katherine Poythress/Civil Beat

More Native Hawaiians are going to college and staying long enough to get their degrees, according to new data from the University of Hawaii.

The number of Native Hawaiians earning either an undergraduate or graduate degree within the UH System increased nearly 22 percent between 2009 and 2010, outstripping UH's annual goal of 6- to 9- percent growth. By comparison, the rate at which all UH students earn their degrees has risen 2.6 percent since 2009, just shy of the 3- to 6-percent goal.

The upturn is thanks in part to donations from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Kamehameha Schools that have helped fund UH services and programs targeted at Native Hawaiians. Students in the underserved population are often first-generation college attendees and many need an extra leg up into higher education, UH President M.R.C. Greenwood said in a recent op-ed.

University officials shared the new data at the Board of Regents meeting Thursday.

"We've done pretty well with the access question for Native Hawaiians," John Morton, vice president for Community Colleges, told the regents. "We're creating opportunities where they weren't before."

The community college system and each of the four-year campuses shared their progress in meeting certain strategic outcomes laid out for the UH System.

Improving Native Hawaiian educational success is one of the system's top five priorities, explained Linda Johnsrud, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Strategic Outcome: Native Hawaiian Educational Attainment

To position the University of Hawaii as one of the world's foremost indigenous-serving universities by supporting the access and success of Native Hawaiians.

Toward that end, in 2008, each of the system's 10 campuses set goals to improve Native Hawaiian enrollment, retention, financial aid and degree or certificate attainment.

Between 2009 and 2010, UH Manoa saw a nearly 7-percent increase in the number of Native Hawaiians earning degrees. At UH West Oahu, the increase was about 17 percent, and at UH Hilo it was about 26 percent.

Community colleges saw a 35-percent increase in the number of Native Hawaiians earning degrees or certificates. The number feasibly could be even higher, but in addition to the enrollment and degree attainment goals, the community colleges are seeking to improve the rate at which Native Hawaiians transfer to UH's four-year campuses.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Kamehameha Schools have pitched in by each donating $500,000 to the community college system's "Achieving the Dream" initiative, Morton said.

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