Creating and Expanding Transfer Pathways for Community Colleges: The Hawai`i Model

By Gemma A. Williams


According to the National Student Clearinghouse, 38% of all community college students earn a credential after six years.  For Kapi`olani Community College (KapCC) students in Hawai`i, the rate was 12% in 2007 (National Student Clearinghouse, 2015, as seen in Juszkiewicz, 2016; Institutional Research Office, 2009).  This represents one of the challenges of KapCC and the University of Hawai`i at Manoa (UHM), to which most KapCC students transfer.  The majority of the students were taking 6-10 years to complete a bachelor’s degree and by completion had 15-20 credits beyond what they needed for the degree.


Forming a Degree Partnership Program

To address those challenges, KapCC and UHM embarked on a degree partnership program by signing a Memorandum of Understanding in 2007.  The goal of this partnership was to increase the number of students graduating with a bachelor’s degree and to reduce the number of excess credits the students at the CC were taking prior to transferring.  Another goal was to increase the university’s responsiveness to the workforce needs of the state for higher education.


The Ka`ie`ie Degree Partnership Program (DPP) was implemented in 2008 with a Coordinator and a Liberal Arts counselor at KapCC.   A joint-implementation team made up of 22 student services professionals from the community college and the university monitored its progress. The program offered dual admission and dual enrollment, declaration of major prior to transfer, mandatory advising, and academic planning through graduation.  As the Coordinator of the program at KapCC for almost seven years, I collaborated with the admission specialist from the university in organizing orientation and transition sessions. I also provided career assessment and counseling to assist students in clarifying their interests, strengths, values, and to help select the pathway that matched their personal attributes. I collaborated with other counselors to introduce students to the various paths available to them at the community college, for example, the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), the Liberal Arts, and the Nursing and Health Sciences pathways. Counselors and advisors trained students in the use of the STAR degree-audit system, which allowed them to track their own progress toward their degree.


Achieving Initial Success

Three hundred seven (307) students comprised the first four cohorts.  When compared with other classified transfer students at UHM, these students were found to have higher GPA (3.08 compared to 2.81) and lower attrition rates (5.7% compared to 10.0%) (WASC Report, 2011).


The program was off to a good start.  However, our belief in continuous improvement led the Chancellor of the community college to take the Dean of Arts & Sciences and the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs to visit Valencia College in Florida in 2012 to observe its operations.  That college was the first winner of the Aspen Institute for Community College Excellence Award in 2011.  One of the features of the program that contributed to their success was having a central transfer advisor from the University of Central Florida housed part-time at Valencia College.  The advisor’s role was to ease the transition of students from the college to the university.  The Chancellor of KapCC, impressed with this special feature, later met with the administrators of the University of Hawai`i to discuss the possibility of adding this feature to the DPP.  As a result, in 2013 UHM hired the first transfer specialist to be housed at KapCC.


Adding Transfer Specialists and More Students

The constant monitoring and follow-up provided by this transfer specialist and the counselors helped to increase the number of students in the program and to enhance retention.  Our first cohort in 2008 had 53 students. In fall 2014 the number went up to 122 and in fall 2015 we had 173 students. The success of the program sparked the interest of other colleges and in 2014 three other colleges decided to implement the program.  UHM hired transfer specialists to work on those campuses.  In 2015, another community college adopted the program.


The first transfer specialist worked under the umbrella of the UH Manoa Advising Center.  With three new transfer specialists added, a new center, the Manoa Transfer Coordinating Center, was created at the university and is dedicated to serving the needs of the students in this collaborative program.


Between 2008 and 2015, a total of 732 students participated in the program.  Of that number, 124 started at another community college.  A 2015 study of the remaining 608 that started at KapCC revealed that 58% of them had graduated and the largest percentage, 18%, had completed a STEM major (KapCC Office of Institutional Effectiveness Report, spring 2015).


This partnership program delivered several benefits for students and the institutions involved. Since many of the students are commuter students with jobs and family commitments, they had the option to attend a face-to-face or on-line orientation session. Students also received information regarding career options and the education paths to their selected careers.  Through mandatory and proactive advising from both campuses, they learned of courses they needed to take to complete their degrees.  In the semester they transferred, they were able to register as continuing students at the university.


Improvement Through Collaboration and Teamwork

David S. Crocket (2006) had published the 10 most effective retention strategies for community/technical colleges.  The DPP utilized several of these strategies in developing the partnership program:

  1. Institutional Commitment
  2. Clearly Defined Pathways
  3. Orientation and Transitions Sessions
  4. Career Assessment and Counseling
  5. Mandatory Advising and Academic Planning
  6. Continuous Monitoring and Support


Through the joint-implementation team, the institutions were able to increase collaboration and teamwork in marketing the program, recruitment, counseling, and advising.  There was also enhanced communication between counselors, advisors, faculty, staff, and administrators.  The university expanded its advising program and both institutions improved graduation rates.


An On-Going Contribution to Student Success

It is gratifying to see that a program that faced many challenges continues to thrive and is commended for its contribution to student retention and success, a goal sought by many institutions. That is exactly what has been achieved by KapCC and UHM through their collaborative Degree Partnership Program.




Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, Past Winners, 2015, 2013, 2011. Retrieved at: http://highered.aspeninstitute.org/aspen-prize/


Crockett, David S. (2006).  The Ten Most Effective Retention Strategies for Community/Technical Colleges, Austin, TX: Noel & Levitz.


Juszkiewicz, J. (2016, March). Trends in Community College Enrollment and Completion Data, 2016, Washington, DC: American Association of Community Colleges.



Kapiolani Community College Office of Institutional Effectiveness Report. (2015). Unpublished Report.


University of Hawai`i Community Colleges, Institutional Research Office. (2009). Graduation and Retention Rates. Retrieved from http://www.hawaii.edu/iro/


Western Association of School and Colleges. (2011). WASC Accreditation Archive. Retrieved from https://manoa.hawaii.edu/wasc/archive



Gemma WilliamsGemma A. WilliamsEd.D., is a Professor/Counselor and was the Coordinator of the Maida Kamber Center for Career Exploration, Transfer, and Graduation Services at Kapi`olani Community College for over 12 years. She has also been the Ka`ie`ie Degree Partnership Coordinator for seven years.  She has over 25 years’ experience in education, teaching in elementary and high school in Trinidad and Tobago and in community colleges and at the university level in Massachusetts and Hawai’i.  Dr. Williams has a BA and MA in History, a CAGS in Counseling, and a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership. Since 2004, the National Career Development Association has recognized her as a Master Career Development Professional.  In 2008 she received recognition as a Global Career Development Facilitator Instructor (GCDFI) and recently received the 2016 National Career Development Association Outstanding Career Practitioner Award.  She may be contacted at gwill60759@aol.com.


The above article is a follow-up to the presentation Dr. Williams made at the NCDA Global Conference in Chicago in July 2016.




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1 Comment

Brian Montalvo   on Wednesday 11/02/2016 at 04:40 PM

Great article! I enjoyed reading about the partnership program. Keep up the great work!!

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