Graduation season shows gaps in high-school completion, career and college paths

Always Investigating

Get the balloons and the lei ready. Hawaii high school seniors will soon have a lot to celebrate with graduation coming up.

Thousands here in Hawaii will go on to college, almost as many will not, and some who started high school freshmen won’t cross the finish line.

Always Investigating looked at the public school graduation and college-enrollment rates to find out what’s next for public school seniors.

What we’ve found renews a call for attention to alternative paths for learning.

Around 10,000 students are expected to graduate soon and many of them will be going on to college, around 55 percent.

The Department of Education set a target years ago of having 55 percent of working age adults hold a two or four-year degree by the year 2025.

But the college-going numbers have stagnated, stuck for years around the 55 percent mark.

Of those, 22 percent are taking the 2-year path, the rest are starting a 4-year program.

“Is college going to be the thing that is going to help our students be able to thrive in our community? Yes, in some ways it will be,” said Joan Lewis of Kapolei High School, a longtime educator and member of the Education Institute of Hawaii, which aims for more transparency and accountability in public schools. “But I think there are other avenues, too, and we need to find ways to really count those.”

The Department of Education sets up benchmark and data tracking, but it is still heavily college-weighted in the annual College and Career Readiness Indicators reports.

KHON2 asked, is the college pressure such that kids who don’t choose that path feel that they’re less than their peers?

“I think that’s something that goes beyond the D.O.E. and something we all struggle with,” Lewis said. “I think we keep talking about college as if that’s what the good kids do or the smart kids do. I don’t think we’re talking enough or that we as the adults in the community have an experience that tells us you know what there’s a lot of value in a lot of different paths.”

“We have seen growth in areas like Career Technical Education program completers and our college enrollment numbers remain steady,” a Department of Education spokesperson told KHON.

Data show the number of students finishing a CTE (Career Technical Education) program jumped from 3,486 in 2014 to 6,501 last year.

“As the largest provider of talent to Hawaii’s workforce, these statistics are encouraging and show that our graduates are leaving high school prepared.”

But what about the student whose path doesn’t make it to the end of the high school finish line?

Last year 11,370 students, out of the 12,998-plus who started as freshmen, graduated public high school as the class of 2018.

The year before that, 10,887 made it to public school graduation in Hawaii of the 12,714 — plus who started as freshmen.

“What would be great for us is if there was a way to do better tracking beyond us, and that doesn’t necessarily exist as part of our system right now,” Lewis said.

They’re not all dropouts.

A student could move to a private school or off island, and recent population decline in Hawaii can make the graduation rate look smaller, too.

“The most recent data shows that on-time graduation rates have gradually increased since 2009,” the Department of Education said. “This is a reflection of the work happening at every level of the Department to design academic supports and implement rigorous curriculum that prepare our students for college and career.”

But for those straying from the path toward high school graduation, educators say they should find a way to better track individual students from freshman through senior year, to help those at risk of dropping out or needing an alternative way to finish high-school equivalency.

“I know that if a student didn’t cross that finish line, I wouldn’t be able to rest at night if I didn’t think I had done everything I could think off — like kitchen sink kind of everything — to help clear whatever barriers I could,” Lewis said.

We’ll follow up on the graduation rates, college-going headcount, and technical career readiness numbers on the class of 2019 and beyond, and we’ll follow any improvements in tracking and transparency on drop-out and graduation rate data.

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