Escaping Hawaii’s Community College Trap

Honolulu Community College

Honolulu Community College

Lauren Souza, a student at Windward Community College, is a young mother of three children with another on the way.

Every weekday, the 25-year-old Kaneohe resident wakes up at 5:30 a.m. to take her 6-year-old twin sons to their respective schools. She makes the trek back to drop her 1-year-old son off at her mother-in-law’s house. Then she goes to her community college classes, finishing up in time to pick up the kids, make them dinner and tuck them in.

She spends the rest of her time doing her schoolwork and, with the help of her husband, taking care of housekeeping, running errands, paying the bills and preparing for her newest child.

And, until she recently learned that she was pregnant again, Souza was working part-time as a waitress on evening shifts at a country club. She quit after realizing it was too much stress during a pregnancy. But losing the income brought another sort of stress, making it even more challenging to cover the costs of community college.

Hawaii’s community college students lag far behind the national average when it comes to timely graduations. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that fewer than 13 percent of the students who enrolled in one of Hawaii’s community colleges in 2009 graduated from their programs within three years, the benchmark typically used by the federal government to describe “on-time” graduation.

The national graduation rate is 18 percent.

Use of the three-year metric has its critics, including Hawaii’s Community Colleges Vice President John Morton, who say it’s too restrictive and fails to account for the students who transfer on to four-year programs without completing their community college degrees. But it offers a way of gauging how Hawaii community college students stack up against their mainland peers. It also reveals how few students are on the fast track to getting their degrees…


Photo Credit: PF Bentley of Civil Beat


Posted on

April 21, 2014