search logo

Dual credit college program at KS Kapālama creates generational change

May 21, 2024

Student loan debt can be crippling. According to federal data, the average Hawaiʻi student has a loan balance of more than $37,000. Paying off these loans can take 20 years or more. For many kanaka maoli, college debt can be the breaking point, forcing them to leave Hawaiʻi pae ʻāina – some never to return. The dual credit program at Kamehameha Schools Kapālama is helping to break this cycle and creating generational change, by giving haumāna agency over their future.

When 400+ Kamehameha Schools Kapālama seniors receive their high school diploma on Sunday, May 26, an impressive 9 out of 10 will already have earned college credits. Sixty-eight haumāna will have gone a big step further having earned an associate degree from Hawaiʻi Pacific University. These achievements are proof-positive of the success of the campus's dual credit program.

Sophie Alameda-Wilcox is one of the 68 haumāna who make up the second KS Kapālama cohort to earn associate of arts degrees from Hawaiʻi Pacific University through a partnership that allows haumāna to earn college and high school credits simultaneously.

Alamed-Wilcox's journey to graduation from HPU and Kapālama is the embodiment of hoʻomau. During her seventh-grade year, her father passed away unexpectedly. Then in her junior year, tragedy struck again when her mother passed away. In the face of heartbreak, she found a way to holomua.

“I had a lot of support. I was given the option to take fewer dual credit classes, but my mom…she was the one who actually started my journey with the dual credit program. So, in doing that, I just wanted to make her proud, and make my dad proud,” said Wilcox, who is planning to attend Oregon State University in the fall.

Sophie Alameda-Wilcox (left) hugs KS Kapālama student success counselor Gina Karas at an AA degree celebration event held at Kaʻiwakīloumoku.

Kathryn Kekaulike, who serves as dean of KS Kapālama’s College and Career department, marvels at Wilcox-Alameda’s grit and determination.

“For her, as a young person to draw that strength from her mom’s encouragement and her culture, to continue to look forward beyond the pain of her loss is huge.”

Kekaulike spearheaded the unique dual credit partnership with HPU which first began in 2021. Instead of making the trek downtown to take college courses, KS Kapālama students can earn credits without leaving campus, which leaves intact invaluable support systems and world-class campus experiences.

“There is nowhere else like here. The view, the stairs, the lunch, the kumu, the rain, Founder’s Day, Maunaʻala. We don't want kids to miss out on these experiences,” Kekaulike said.

Haumāna are grateful for the dual credit offerings, too. Senior Ocean Bustamante plans to enter HPU’s physician’s assistant program in the fall. A standout in soccer, she’s lined up athletic, merit and other scholarships, and is on a two-year track to earn her bachelor’s degree – unburdened by debt.

“I don't have to do any more general education requirements. Everything lined up for me and I feel really blessed and excited,” Bustamante said.

Another haumāna to earn their AA degree this spring is Logan Ledesma. As a multi-year award-winning Song Contest director, he’s proof that with campus supports, it’s possible to balance extracurriculars and the extra kuleana that comes with the dual-credit program.

“I really got to practice my time management and my organization skills. It was pretty challenging, but I feel like this is helping me build myself for the future,” Ledesma said.

There’s a huge value in the dual-credit partnership with HPU, even for those who don’t go so far as earning an AA degree. First off, there’s the fact that college credits earned never expire, meaning haumāna who enter the workforce or return to HPU later in life don’t have to start from scratch. And there are other positives too: “The increased academic confidence, the ability to save money, and the aspiration. Maybe they never saw themselves as a college student,” Kekaulike said.

Graduation day will mean many things to many different haumāna, including Wilcox-Alameda who will receive her diploma no doubt with a heavy heart. But amidst the pain and uncertainty, she also remains filled with hope and something else equally important.

“I'm so incredibly grateful for this program because I do have a really big jump. I won’t have to start as a freshman, and so with that in mind, a lot of the stress is kind of lifted for me.”

The dual-credit program is creating generational change. In last year’s inaugural cohort, a whopping 30% who earned their AA degree were the first in their family to earn a post-high school degree of any kind.

And Kekaulike aptly notes that great things await those haumāna who are willing to push even harder.

“Three years from high school graduation, when most of your friends are finishing their junior year, you can have your master's degree. Talk about changing people's lives and their socioeconomic trajectory!”

college and career success,imua kamehameha,ks kapalama

Kaipuolono Article, Regions, Wai’anae Coast, ‘Ewa, Waialua, Kona, O’ahu, Ko’olau, Themes, Culture, Community, E Ola!, Kapalama Newsroom, Kapalama High School, Kapalama Middle School, Kapalama Elementary School, Kapalama Athletics, Kapalama Home, KS Announcements, Newsroom, Kapalama, Alumni, Oahu, Kapalama campus

Print with photos Print text only