When Craig Okahara-Olsen graduated from Waiakea High School on Saturday, he already earned a college degree.
The 18-year-old graduated with 61 college credits earned through the Early College dual-credit program.
That’s enough credits to complete an associate of arts degree from Hawaii Community College. Okahara-Olsen is the first Hawaii Island student to do so.
“It feels great,” Okahara-Olsen told the Tribune-Herald earlier this month. “Skipping the first few years of college is saving my parents money, too. So it feels pretty good and (I hope) it’s inspiring to other people, too.”
Early College began at HCC in the 2013-14 school year. It’s currently offered at nine high schools on the island. HCC also features the Running Start dual-credit program where courses are offered on the college campus or online via college classes in the University of Hawaii system.
By contrast, Early College courses are offered either on the high school campus or delivered online.
Collectively there were 635 students enrolled in dual-credit programs through HCC this past year.
“We’re trying to get Early College on steroids,” HCC Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas said recently. “So we’re excited and thrilled for Craig. Time and time again we see how much dual-credit programs are able to close that achievement gap.”
Okahara-Olsen said he plans to attend the University of San Francisco next year and study computer science or history. He is considering a career as a college professor.
He said he’ll enter USF with the same number of credits as a college junior and he hopes to graduate up to two years early. He advises other high school students to “not be afraid to try new things and push yourself.”
“And don’t think of college as the last step, think of it as a tool,” Okahara-Olsen said.
In addition to Okahara-Olsen, 14 West Hawaii Early College students obtained Academic Subject certificates in Hawaii life styles, which require 12 credits. Those students were recognized at Palamanui’s commencement ceremony earlier this month.
HCC graduated 675 students this year overall, up 11 percent from last year and its second-highest number of graduates ever.