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UH: Class of 2021 College Enrollment Disruptions Continue

March 23, 2022, 6:30 AM HST
* Updated March 22, 7:07 PM
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Two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have taken their toll on college-bound high school students from the islands.

According to a news release from the University of Hawaiʻi, graduating high school seniors from the state saw a small recovery of college-bound enrollment in 2021 compared to the previous year; however, the second year of the pandemic continued to hamper efforts to attend a post-secondary campus.

Overall, 51% of Hawaiʻi’s public school graduates from the class of 2021 went on to college in the first fall after graduation. This is a slight increase from the 50% enrollment rate from the class of 2020, but still down from the pre-pandemic rate of 55%, according to the release.

Graduates in 2021 did enroll in four-year institutions at rates comparable to pre-pandemic levels, but enrollments at two-year institutions remained stagnant. The class of 2021 also matched the all-time high on-time graduation rate of 86%.

“It’s encouraging to see our college enrollment rates starting to recover and our graduation rate hitting an all-time high,” said Keith Hayashi, interim superintendent for the state Department of Education, in the news release. “This is a testament to the resiliency of our students who continue to prioritize their education and strive for excellence.”

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But he added that there is more work to do to support the state’s future graduates.

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“We see some positive trends and some that are concerning,” said Erika Lacro, vice president of Community Colleges at UH, said in the release. “Dual credit has opened doors for our high school students to continue to develop the knowledge and skills needed for our workforce. At the same time, we must systematically improve connecting students with programs at the community colleges that can lead to new opportunities in Hawaiʻi’s workforce. The seven community colleges are excellent options to meet students’ needs within their communities and provide pathways to high-wage and high-demand careers.”

Data published in the College and Career Readiness Indicators Report also identified areas where support and monitoring will be needed in upcoming years.

According to the release, statewide Smarter Balanced Assessment data plateaued and began showing a downward trend prior to the pandemic. Because of disruptions in 2020, the assessment tests in English/Language Arts and Mathematics were not administered.

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“The lack of data underscores the need for close monitoring of these indicators in coming years to identify trends and plan possible interventions,” said the release.

“Industry is eager to support our students through education and workforce training partnerships and collaboration to leverage resources that will benefit our state’s economic and workforce needs,” said Leslie Wilkins from the Maui Economic Development Board in the news release. “The College and Career Readiness Indicators give everyone timely access to quality information that can be used to prepare our students to take their next steps into the workforce of Hawaiʻi.”

Consistent with trends throughout the United States, enrollment in two-year colleges for the class of 2021 fell to the lowest levels in recent years.

The Youth Voice Hawaiʻi Report from the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation summarizes the thoughts and impressions shared by students and staff on their views of education and aspirations for the future. According to the release, academic relevance, life skills preparation and exposure to pathways and access to information were three areas highlighted in the core findings of the report as highly important areas where school system partners have a lot of influence.

“This is an opportunity for all stakeholders to continue supporting the creation and alignment of career and technical education programs, career pathways that start in high school and lead to meaningful credentials offered at our Hawaiʻi colleges, continued creation and coordination of dual credit door-opener opportunities that expose students to the benefits of post-secondary training in all forms and continued investment in opportunities for students to be ready to succeed once they arrive in college,” the release noted. “It is an opportunity to reflect on the work that has been done and use data to identify additional need areas to best prepare students for continued success on the pathway from high school into the workforce.”

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