The Impact of the Step Up Scholars Program on College Readiness and Success

November 2016

Spearheaded by GEAR UP Hawai'i, the Step Up Scholars program was a statewide campaign and program that encouraged Hawai'i public school students in the graduating Classes of 2013, 2014, and 2015 to earn a more-rigorous high school diploma—the Board of Education Recognition Diploma (BOERD). The BOERD was designed to better prepare high school students for college and careers. The goal of the program was to increase the number of students who took rigorous coursework, graduated with the BOERD, and as a result, successfully entered and completed postsecondary education.

From fall 2008 to spring 2012, 13,886 students pledged to be Step Up Scholars, representing a third of students in the Classes of 2013, 2014, and 2015 in the state. After the campaign, the program provided a breadth of information and resources to Scholars about meeting the requirements of the BOERD, applying for college and financial aid, and developing the skills needed to succeed in college and a career. The idea was that more-informed and better-prepared students were more likely to take the required coursework for the BOERD and apply for financial aid and college.

This evaluation presents the program’s effects on high school graduation and earning the BOERD for Scholars, as well as their college enrollment and persistence, compared with a matched comparison group. Since Step Up’s theory of change centered on encouraging students to take rigorous coursework to earn the BOERD, we also examined the program’s impact on earning credit in rigorous high school coursework. Finally, we examined Step Up’s impact on the college-performance outcomes of students who attended the University of Hawai'i (UH).

We found Step Up improved Scholars’ chances of earning credit in rigorous coursework, graduating from high school, earning the BOERD, and enrolling and persisting in college. Results were similar for low-income Scholars. For UH students, Step Up improved first-year college-level credit accumulation and grade point average.

This report was selected as the 2017 Distinguished Paper by the Hawai‘i Educational Research Association.

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