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Early College earns place in state

Waipahu High School’s Early College program is giving opportunities to Hawaii’s students

By: Chavonnie Ramos

10 December 2018

With the increasing popularity of Early College programs across Hawaii, Waipahu High School’s program has branched out to different pathways and extended its opportunities to as early as middle school.


Waipahu High School Early College Director Mark Silliman reaches out to students at Waipahu Intermediate to encourage them to consider Early College, and helps eighth-graders with applications in the winter before their freshman year. This is part of the plan to graduate high school with an associate's degree.


“Can we change the world and make it a better place by giving people those opportunities?,” Silliman said he ponders.

Early College is a dual credit program for high school students which allows them to earn college and high school credits simultaneously. Waipahu High School’s Early College program has expanded from one class with 30 students to 58 classes and more than 300 students.


“With the current level of expansion, the DOE is going to need more than what's currently there,” Hawaii P-20 Executive Director Stephen Schatz said.


There are more than 800 Early College courses offered at 38 high schools across the island, and that number will continue to rise throughout the years.


In 2012, 671 students, or 6 percent of high school graduates, participated in dual-credit programs such as Early College, according to Hawaii P-20. By 2017, 1,823 students were enrolled. That’s 17 percent of high school graduates in the state of Hawaii.


High schools collaborate with the University of Hawaii and offer students chances to take college courses for free. Early College programs were previously funded through the GEAR UP grant and educational organizations such as the Castle Foundation and the McInerny Foundation.


The state legislature appropriated $1.5 million to the Department of Education last year. The DOE now is asking for an additional $1.5 million more to keep the programs running.

“When it goes from soft-funding to legislatively funding, it's sort of this moment of time of changing from something we're trying, to something that we're committed as a state to doing,” Schatz said.


Early College programs across the state also vary depending on the high school. Each high school collaborates with UH to offer programs that best fit their communities.


Waipahu High School’s Early College program is an example of how successful and popular dual credit programs are becoming. The school recently implemented “Early College 2.0,” a more advanced version of the original program.


Early College 2.0 is a similar program offering a Strategic Enrollment Management Plan which supports the State of Hawaii’s goal of 55 percent of adults earning college degrees by 2025.


“We’re raising expectations and saying it’s no longer acceptable to be a slacker,” Silliman said. “We expect you to rise to the highest level of expectations we have set for you.”


The primary goal of the Waipahu High Early College program is to provide lower-income students, first-generation college goers and underrepresented populations the opportunity to earn college credits for free.


This past May, 12 Waipahu High School students graduated with both their high school diplomas and associate's degrees.


These students were a part of Waipahu’s Early College Olympian program. They started taking college courses in ninth grade. Ideally, the program helps students enter college with junior standings.


There are different Early College options students can take at the school: Non-Degree, AA Olympian and STEM Olympian.


The Non-Degree option maximizes a student’s choice in terms of extracurricular activities, while increasing college readiness. AA Olympians maximize the dual credit option in satisfying high school courses by taking college courses instead. 

STEM Olympians go through college chemistry, physics and four semesters of calculus to get an Associate in Science/Natural Science degree by the time they graduate high school.



Waipahu High also has its own Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society chapter with 56 members.


Phi Theta Kappa is an honor society for two-year colleges and academic programs. Originally, Waipahu High Early College students would join Leeward Community College’s chapter.


In order to join Phi Theta Kappa, students must maintain 12 college credits and a minimum GPA of 3.5.


“This is the fact that there are hundreds upon hundreds, tens of thousands of early college students throughout the United States. They're going to be following in our footsteps,” Silliman said.

Part of the reason why the Waipahu program is successful, staff say, is because of Silliman.


He spends his mornings coordinating meetings with internal and external stakeholders. When the school day ends, his day gets crazier.


“In the afternoon, it’s pretty much helping to coordinate about 22-25 college classes, getting students into the classes and so forth,” Silliman said.


He’s generally the first one in, last one out.


He opens the Early College classes located in V-Building, helps connect the professors to the Wi-Fi and takes attendance.


Once the clock strikes 5 p.m., Silliman locks up the classrooms, sets building alarms and checks out for the day.


He goes beyond his role as director of the Early College program. He’s also an admissions officer, registrar, bookstore cashier, financial aid adviser and counselor. He also writes letters of recommendations.

The right choice?


Sheldon Tawata, coordinator of the Kuilei Outreach Program at Kapiolani Community College says that students need to have conversations with their teachers and parents before making a commitment to Early College and dual credit programs.


“Right now we have kind of a small handful of students who are on academic probation, and should they decide to come into a UH system after they graduate from high school, they’re GPA is going to be below 2.0,” he said. “So parents need to know if their child stays on the fence, if their GPA is below 2.0, they lose out on financial aid, a whole bunch of other stuff, too.”


Tawata noted that the Early College culture is growing fast and requires a lot of thought before committing to the courses.


“So when they reach 16 or 17, they have that college degree in their hand. What does it mean to them?” Tawata said. “It’s like, okay we saved you money. We might have theoretically shortened your time to complete your degree, but do you know what degree you’re going to pursue?”


Silliman serves as a counselor to ensure that students are doing well in their Early College courses.


In Fall 2015 as well as Spring and Summer 2016, 418 students received an A grade in Early College courses, while seven failed. In the next school year, 448 received A grades and eight failed.

Getting more students into college and the workforce

UH Manoa had a record-breaking 2,209 freshmen enrolled this past semester. It was the largest freshman class in 11 years and a 12.8 percent increase from last year.


Schatz says that they need to change the economic outlook for the community and students, while increasing their educational capitol.


“When you sort of back that up to what you need to do in college, you need to make sure kids finish. It's great to get them into college, but if students aren't finishing, you may have just helped them incur some debt,” Schatz said.


Silliman said he is currently working to establish more opportunities for students at Waipahu through Early College. The most recent project is building a research grade observatory.


“Waipahu High School is the tip of the spear,” he said. “What we have done is a tidal wave, sweeping the nation.”


Waipahu High School Early College Director Mark Silliman.


56 Waipahu High School Students were inducted into the school’s first Phi Theta Kappa chapter.


Waipahu's 56 PTK inductees stand with Waipahu faculty, staff and community members.

Photos Courtesy of Waipahu High School Early College

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