When Craig Okahara-Olsen graduates from Waiakea High School this spring, he’ll not only receive a diploma — he’ll also be on track to complete an associate degree.
“I never thought I’d (graduate with an associate),” the 18-year-old Okahara-Olsen said in a recent phone interview. “When I was younger I just kind of thought I’d graduate from high school (only) but taking college courses has really pushed me.”
Okahara-Olsen is one of hundreds of Hawaii Island seniors who will start college in the fall with some amount of college credit under their belt. They are participants in dual credit programs offered at high schools around the island which allow teens to earn college and high school credit for the same class.
Dual credit participation islandwide has continued to increase. A total of 304 Hawaii Island high school students were enrolled in the Running Start and Early College dual credit programs through Hawaii Community College this past fall, up from 101 in fall 2012. At the University of Hawaii at Hilo, 48 students were enrolled in those dual credit offerings this past fall, up from 34 in fall 2012.
Statewide, UH Early College offerings have jumped from eight classes in the 2012-13 school year to more than 269 classes this school year.
Early College courses are commissioned by the state Department of Education or private schools and are free for students. They’re offered either on the high school campus or delivered online and are largely supported by state leaders.
Running Start courses are offered on the college campus or online via college classes in the UH system. High-schoolers pay regular tuition and are eligible for financial aid.
Kamehameha Schools Hawaii also offers its students an opportunity to take college courses through its Kaunaloa dual credit program that began three years ago.
The Kaunaloa program features two separate tracks — one which mirrors Early College and Running Start and are mostly taught online, and another track offered through a partnership with Saint Louis University and grants teachers adjunct professor status.
Kamehameha Schools is working toward an institution-wide goal to have 50 percent of its graduating seniors earn six or more college credits by graduation, said Clint Anderson, who is dean of students at the Hawaii campus and program lead.
Data shows economically disadvantaged students who graduate with dual credit attend college at almost double the rate of their counterparts without.
The Kaunaloa program “was initiated as part of a tri-campus effort to increase college persistence and retention,” Anderson said.
“Kamehameha Schools does a pretty good job getting our students to college but it follows kind of the national trend, of students actually completing in four to six years,” Anderson said. “So we wanted to (improve) that and the major studies show students who take six (college) credits … outperform their peers on almost every statistic. Overall they just have better success.”
Kamehameha Schools Hawaii seniors Rachel Tanaka and Samantha Rapoza said taking dual credit courses helped them discover their passion for teaching.
They both participated in Kamehameha’s Lamaku Teacher Cadet Program which prepares students for careers in teaching or coaching.
“I just love children and their positive outlook on life,” Tanaka said. “And I think if you can harness that passion and excitement and teach them something, it will last forever.”
“I want to be one of those teachers who really impacts students and helps them learn,” Rapoza added.
Molimau Haunga, also a Kamehameha Schools Hawaii senior, said dual credit helped her learn what she’s most interested in — business rather than science. She said she eventually aspires to open her own business.
“I feel like I’m much more prepared for college,” Haunga said. “I feel like I’m that much more ahead of the game.”
Email Kirsten Johnson at email@example.com.