COVID-19 Has Decimated College Sports — And The Pathway They Offered To Higher Education - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Alika Masei

Alika Masei, a former Hawaii educator and college athlete, is currently studying at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The concept of talanoa — intentional conversations or dialogue — exists across Pacific Island cultures. As high school seniors contemplate their plans for next year, there is an urgent need to have a talanoa about relying on athletic scholarships to afford college and exploring additional ways to support college-bound Pacific Islander students during COVID-19.

In this time of much uncertainty, the Hawaii Department of Education should designate a portion of its allotted $43 million CARES Act funds to implement virtual college-readiness programs across the islands. In particular, the HIDOE should ensure that there are enough high school counselors to work closely with students who are interested in college. According to the most recent 2014-2015 data from the American School Counselor Association, Hawaii’s student-to-counselor ratio is 293 to 1. Hundreds of students are relying on just one counselor.

College is a defining experience for many young adults, but some Pacific Islander students continue to face setbacks on their journey to higher education. In 2015, the USC Rossier School of Education highlighted that while 80% of Pacific Islander high school students aspired to obtain a bachelor’s degree or higher, only 45% enrolled in a four-year institution immediately after high school.

COVID-19 has made getting to college more challenging as families struggle financially and athletic scholarships are put on hold. The current moment presents an opportunity to employ federal funding to empower schools and better prepare Pacific Islander students for education after high school.

Southern California running back Vavae Malepeai (29) runs the ball in the first half against BYU during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/George Frey)
Southern California running back Vavae Malepeai (29) runs the ball in the first half against BYU during a 2019 NCAA college football game in Provo, Utah; Malepeai won a sports scholarship to attend USC. (AP Photo/George Frey) AP/2019

High school counselors arrive at a critical point for students who aim to attend college. The ASCA notes that counselors frequently assess both academic and social-emotional needs of students (in partnership with parents and teachers) to improve student well-being.

College sports offer students a pathway not just to higher education via scholarship but occasionally into professional leagues. Furthermore, Pacific Islanders have additional motivations to pursue athletics beyond entertainment and self-fulfillment purposes.

As a former educator serving predominately Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students from low-income areas, I worked with students who often shared their sports dreams with me. One student explained that his goal was to play for the NFL and eventually buy his mother a house large enough to fit their entire family.

This sentiment is not surprising considering that family is the foundation in many Pacific Island cultures. For example, the concept of Faa Samoa or “the Samoan way” places family in a primary position. In my student’s case, the desire to compete in top-level sports was attached to increasing upward mobility for his family.

When COVID-19 arrived in the islands, the Hawai‘i High School Athletic Association announced that all interscholastic athletic practices and competitions would be suspended to minimize the spread of the disease. That shutdown, of course, significantly decreases the potential for local athletes to be recruited, as college recruiters are forced to assess an individual’s athletic ability based on past years’ results rather than live performance.

The author’s brother, Micah Masei, received a college sports scholarship; he currently swims for the University of Hawaii and represented American Samoa at the swimming World Championships. 

With limited platforms to showcase current athletic talent not just in Hawaii but across the United States, college recruiters are pulling back on scholarships. The College Finance website indicates that college coaches now expect a larger number of walk-on athletes who can potentially earn an athletic scholarship later on. But the lack of scholarship funds upfront will disproportionally affect Pacific Islander students and others from financially disadvantaged communities who cannot afford to pay for college in advance.

As the pandemic rages on, it is still unclear how colleges and universities will respond to the needs of underrepresented students. As athletic opportunities narrow, students will need all the help they can get. Thus steps must be taken to bolster support for high school counselors to ensure that students are adequately advised as they pursue their college dreams.

Increased funding from the CARES Act will allow counselors to spend more time advising students on financial aid, personal statements and school-based and external scholarships.

Pacific Islanders and other vulnerable populations cannot be allowed to fall through the cracks. During such pressing times, we must continue to have talanoa about supporting our high school students. By prioritizing their future, we are prioritizing the future of our community.

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About the Author

Alika Masei

Alika Masei, a former Hawaii educator and college athlete, is currently studying at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Latest Comments (0)

I appreciate how you have framed this moment as an opportunity to dramatically reimagine student support. It seems like you are speaking more to the ways in which we are supporting high school counselors to help navigate an unprecedented moment. Beyond having more counselors, what you have raised is the need to use funding strategically in an effort to allow counselors more time advising students who are facing new challenges based on the shutdown. 

AutumnStarfish · 2 years ago

You make this sound as if Hawaii is doing poorly in this regard. What you fail to mention is that in this ASCA study you cite, Hawaii's ratio ranked as the 4th best, with only Vermont, Wyoming & New Hampshire with fewer students per counselor. With that stat in mind, I can't agree with the sentiment that the DOE needs to hire more counselors, especially if the added counselors are primarily catering to students aiming to use college athletics as some sort of a springboard to pro sports, where the odds of successfully making it into the major league of their chosen sport is astronomical.

KalihiValleyHermit · 2 years ago

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