More Native Hawaiians are going to college and staying long enough to get their degrees, according to new data from the University of Hawaii.

The number of Native Hawaiians earning either an undergraduate or graduate degree within the UH System increased nearly 22 percent between 2009 and 2010, outstripping UH’s annual goal of 6- to 9- percent growth. By comparison, the rate at which all UH students earn their degrees has risen 2.6 percent since 2009, just shy of the 3- to 6-percent goal.

The upturn is thanks in part to donations from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Kamehameha Schools that have helped fund UH services and programs targeted at Native Hawaiians. Students in the underserved population are often first-generation college attendees and many need an extra leg up into higher education, UH President M.R.C. Greenwood said in a recent op-ed.

University officials shared the new data at the Board of Regents meeting Thursday.

“We’ve done pretty well with the access question for Native Hawaiians,” John Morton, vice president for Community Colleges, told the regents. “We’re creating opportunities where they weren’t before.”

The community college system and each of the four-year campuses shared their progress in meeting certain strategic outcomes laid out for the UH System.

Improving Native Hawaiian educational success is one of the system’s top five priorities, explained Linda Johnsrud, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Strategic Outcome: Native Hawaiian Educational Attainment

To position the University of Hawaii as one of the world’s foremost indigenous-serving universities by supporting the access and success of Native Hawaiians.

Toward that end, in 2008, each of the system’s 10 campuses set goals to improve Native Hawaiian enrollment, retention, financial aid and degree or certificate attainment.

Between 2009 and 2010, UH Manoa saw a nearly 7-percent increase in the number of Native Hawaiians earning degrees. At UH West Oahu, the increase was about 17 percent, and at UH Hilo it was about 26 percent.

Community colleges saw a 35-percent increase in the number of Native Hawaiians earning degrees or certificates. The number feasibly could be even higher, but in addition to the enrollment and degree attainment goals, the community colleges are seeking to improve the rate at which Native Hawaiians transfer to UH’s four-year campuses.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Kamehameha Schools have pitched in by each donating $500,000 to the community college system’s “Achieving the Dream” initiative, Morton said.

The early results:

  • Native Hawaiian enrollment in the community colleges has more than doubled in the last four years, from 4,600 to 9,400.

  • The percentage of Native Hawaiians earning two-year degrees or certificates exceeded the goal by between 8 and 40 percent at all but two community colleges last year.

  • The rate at which Native Hawaiians in UH community colleges transfer to one of the four-year campuses spiked from 183 to 291 between 2008 and 2010 — a 59-percent increase.

  • The total number of UH students receiving Pell Grants increased 44 percent last year, from 9,800 to 14,100, which means more students — including Native Hawaiians — are receiving the financial aid they need to stay in college and complete their degrees.

Greenwood said in her op-ed that the university’s success with Native Hawaiians has been the result of focused efforts through programs like Achieving the Dream and campus centers directed toward meeting Native Hawaiians’ educational needs.

Regent Richard Gee applauded the university system’s efforts.

“I think the people and state of Hawaii are being very well served by our university, and I want to congratulate the university president and her staff,” he said.

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