By Lesli Yogi, Communications and Engagement Specialist, Hawaii P-20 Partnerships for Education
When the COVID pandemic hit, our organization immediately realized that our graduating high school class of 2020 needed immediate intervention to ensure they would succeed in making the transition from high school to college or career. This meant taking action and moving quickly from in-person to virtual support and strategies.
As it is widely known, data show that seniors who complete the FAFSA, especially economically disadvantaged students, are more likely to enroll in postsecondary education. With students not being in schools and having limited or no access to their college counselors for one-on-one support, we needed to develop solutions that could assist our students even while they were at home.
We provided technical expertise and support for students and families through an email hotline, FAFSA@Hawaii.edu, which was supported by local financial aid specialists. We promoted this support through a statewide media campaign to encourage FAFSA completion, including a television PSA, radio, and a digital campaign. We also created a comprehensive list of financial aid online resources that could serve as an information portal for educators and families.
We collaborated with our local chamber of commerce to offer a webinar to families on how to pay for college during COVID-19. This webinar provided valuable guidance and insight on how college can be affordable even during this crisis. By partnering with our community, we were able to help spread the word and reach a much broader audience.
We will continue to offer FAFSA webinars for new and continuing college students throughout the summer to make sure they know it’s not too late to submit their FAFSA.
Finally, Hawaii P-20, in partnership with the University of Hawaii, GEAR UP Hawaii, and several philanthropic partners (Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, Hawai‘i Community Foundation, Strada Education Network, the Stupski Foundation, and the Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation) launched a comprehensive new summer on-ramp initiative called “Next Steps to Your Future,” designed specifically to support Hawaii‘s class of 2020 public high school seniors. The “Next Steps to Your Future” initiative consists of two parts: summer advising and free summer classes at the University of Hawaii Community Colleges.
The summer advising initiative, led by Hawaii P-20, is currently engaging and guiding over 1,700 seniors in transitioning to their post-high school plans for careers and connecting them to postsecondary education, training and/or employment.
Every student is connected with an experienced University of Hawaii adviser who is providing free personalized support and information to guide them in their next steps whether they plan to enroll in college or had to delay their college plans. Support consists of specialized text messages with reminders on completing college applications and the FAFSA and providing access to relevant resources and opportunities to receive one-on-one support from a dedicated adviser over the eight weeks of summer.
Students also had the opportunity to enroll in free online University of Hawaii Community College Summer Exploration classes to explore career options and discover the education and training needed to reach their goals. More than 1,500 recent graduates have enrolled in over 129 classes this summer at one of the University of Hawaii Community Colleges. Participating students are earning between one and six college credits in these classes.
Finally, to help financially support our Next Steps students with their fall college enrollment, they will be eligible to apply for the Stronger Together Hawaii Scholarship, a $2 million dollar scholarship funded by Hawaii Community Foundation and First Hawaiian Bank Foundation.
These combined efforts with our generous partners over the past few months have yielded positive results in Hawaii’s FAFSA completion numbers. According to NCAN’s #FormYourFuture FAFSA Tracker, Hawaii is currently ranked first in having the lowest percent change in FAFSA completions year over year. Our current statewide FAFSA completion rate is 58.5%.
While we still have much work to do, supporting our graduates to take charge of their futures has been at the core of our focus. It’s critical that we continue to support our young people in planning for our shared future and how they will each contribute to taking care of their families, their communities and these islands that are our home.
Hawaii P-20 strengthens the education pipeline from early childhood through postsecondary education and training with data-informed decision making, advocacy, policy coordination, and shared action. Our work is focused on high expectations and equitable access, so all students can thrive in school, career and life.