Sacred Hearts Academy students experience university-level courses
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Lindsey Dimaya takes college-level communications and history classes. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she attends biology lab and expository writing courses. And in between, the 16-year-old Sacred Hearts Academy Lancer still has to juggle the requirements for her high school diploma.
While the rest of Dimaya’s classmates decided to participate in a dual enrollment program between Sacred Hearts Academy and Chaminade University in early March, the Aiea resident didn’t render her final verdict until mid-summer. For the high school junior, the question of finishing high school and simultaneously earning college credit was one of the toughest decisions she has had to ever make in her 16 years.
“It was a big decision,” says Dimaya, an inspiring journalist interested in the media industry. “I wasn’t sure if I was ready for the college experience and the added workload.”
Finances, however, also played a major role in Dimaya’s mind. Since she is one half of fraternal twins, her parents would have had to pay for college for two kids at the same time. And that adds up quickly. Earning college credits in high school could reduce the financial barrier to college for many students—and help address the student debt crisis. Indeed, it can be a faster, cheaper way to get a college degree.
“My parents encouraged me to participate in the dual enrollment program because it was a more affordable option,” Dimaya says. “In addition to getting a head start in college, I could also save my parents a lot of money.”
States—including Hawaii—have prioritized college and career readiness as a key goal of high school, reflecting the reality that most jobs require postsecondary education. The Early College High School Initiative (ECHSI) was established in 2002 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Over the past two decades, Early Colleges have expanded rapidly nationwide.
In a 2019 American Institutes for Research (AIR) study, researchers found that, over four years, Early Colleges cost about $3,800 more per student than traditional high schools. However, the estimated return on that investment was about $33,709 in increased lifetime earnings for each student. Furthermore, a cost-benefit study by AIR found that Early College programs pay off with lasting benefits for students and the broader population. (Chaminade’s program is separate from this consortium of Early Colleges, which are partnerships among school districts, charter management organizations or high schools, and two- or four-year colleges or universities.)
Also called concurrent enrollment, dual enrollment programs offer many cost-saving benefits, making these types of options popular among high schoolers. But many students, particularly those who are low-income and/or of color, lack access to a well-rounded high school education. Inadequate preparation in high school leaves high school graduates with fewer choices and pathways to postsecondary education. As a result, postsecondary enrollment and completion gaps persist. Early College High Schools focus explicitly on overcoming these challenges.
“This is really a part of Chaminade’s service-oriented mission, which is to make higher education accessible to all Hawai’i students,” says Janet Davidson, Ph.D., Vice Provost of Academic Affairs and the driving force behind the University’s early college initiatives. “We launched a similar program with Kapaa High School in 2021. But unlike this new early college program, Kapaa participants only had the opportunity to earn high school and college credit at the same time. Sacred Heart students can actually earn their Associate’s degree in Liberal Arts.”
Since this trend began, AIR researchers have conducted a number of comprehensive studies on their impact, finding overall that Early Colleges show strong and lasting evidence of effectiveness for all students. Promoting postsecondary access and success can be an effective policy strategy for improving postsecondary enrollment and completion rates.
“Early college exposure is inspiring and formative,” says Kim Baxter, Chaminade’s Early College Director. “Sacred Hearts students will earn their Associates degree in May 2025, and two weeks later, they’ll graduate from high school.”
Dimaya’s grateful that she opted in this program, which will prepare her to be better equipped when she continues to pursue her bachelor’s degree either at Chaminade or Portland University.
“At first, I was afraid of the workload, but now I see that I can handle it,” Dimaya says confidently. “I think that this early college exposure has helped me manage my time, as well as taught me to be more independent and disciplined.”