College-bound graduate rates below average

While some public high schools in Maui County have seen significant improvements over the past few years in the number of graduates enrolling in a two- or four-year college, most high schools in the county still fall below the state average, according to a recent study.

Last year, about 43.5 percent of Maui’s graduating class of 2012 was headed for college, according to the state Department of Education’s annual college and career readiness indicators report released last week. Statewide, 54 percent of graduates were headed for college, up from 53 percent the year before.

The study compounded school-by-school statistics and reported rates of graduates enrolled in college, as well as on-time graduation rates, Advanced Placement enrollment and averaged test scores.

King Kekaulike High School saw significant improvements over a two-year period. Its college-attendance rates jumped from 50 percent in 2010 to 58 percent of its 243 graduates last year.

“Some of these kids come with such high motivation, I’m amazed at their course schedules,” said Principal Susan Scofield. “They’re willing to take advantage of the opportunities we offer; even if it means they have to study harder or stay at home to do homework, they’re doing it, and that’s amazing.”

In the 2012 school year, 92 King Kekaulike High School students enrolled in AP classes, college-level courses that high school students may opt to take. Additionally, Scofield said, every graduating senior was required to fill out a “Personal Transition Plan,” which outlined what they wanted to do after high school.

Another school, Baldwin High School, had one of the state’s most improved college-attendance rates, rising 11 percent from 47 percent in 2010 to 58 percent last year.

Officials said the study’s college-attendance rates were a primary indicator for academic success among high school graduates.

“The upward trend in college-going rates is a positive sign for our students and the state’s economic outlook,” said Department of Education Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi. “The improvements on all of the indicators reflect our ongoing statewide reforms, and we expect continued improvement over time.”

By 2018, 65 percent of jobs in Hawaii will require at least some post-secondary training or education, according to the report.

The state education department has set a goal by 2018 to reach a college-attendance rate of 71 percent – 9 percent points higher than the current national median of 62 percent.

That may be a harder goal to reach for schools with smaller enrollment, because their percentages vary more with fewer students, said a data analyst for Hawaii P-20 Partnerships for Education, the nonprofit organization that put together the annual report.

“We have to be careful about what we’re reporting, so we tried to keep (most of the information) statewide comparisons,” said Jean Osumi, Hawaii P-20’s senior associate for academic policy and evaluation. “The smaller the number of graduates, like at Hana High or Lahainaluna (High), the higher or lower the percentages will rise and fall because of just a few students.”

One public high school in the county that saw a significant drop in college enrollment was Molokai High School. In 2010, 36 percent of graduates were headed for college. The number leapt to 51 percent in 2011 but dropped back down to 39 percent last year.

Molokai High School Principal Stan Hao did not have an explanation for why the number dropped so drastically, but he noted that enrollment has been decreasing over the past few years, which may account for some of the “highs and lows.”

Also, he said, it is harder for rural islands like Molokai to access post-secondary education.

“Our kids don’t have the opportunity to just drive to other colleges to see what programs are available,” Hao said. “And often, it’s a family decision that’s based on economics.”

Still, the school offers a number of programs, like the Molokai Advisory Program, that give students the opportunity to look at and talk about college and career readiness, Hao said. The program meets twice a week for 30 minutes. Also, students participate in Current Technological Education programs, like science fairs and History Day projects, that allow students to compete on the state and national levels.

Hawaii P-20 set a goal of 55 percent of Hawaii’s working-age adults having a two- or four-year degree by 2025.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at