The Step Up Scholars Program: Perspectives on Its History and Impact


October 2014


Two male students looking at the camera smiling

One approach to improve the college and career readiness of American students is to increase the rigor of the high school diploma requirements so that they align with the knowledge and skills required of college and careers.This is the approach of the Step Up Scholars program in Hawaiʻi, a statewide campaign and program that encourages students to pledge to earn a more rigorous college and career readiness high school diploma. The program was designed and implemented by GEAR UP Hawaiʻi, a federally funded educational program intended to improve the postsecondary access and success of low-income students. GEAR UP is a major program of Hawaiʻi P-20 Partnerships, which leads several initiatives and programs to improve Hawaiʻi student outcomes from cradle to career.

As part of a longitudinal impact study of the Step Up Scholars program, between February and April 2014, we reviewed the Step Up Scholars program and policy documents and conducted interviews in order to gain a better understanding of the program and obtain perspectives from key stakeholders on the program’s history and impact. We interviewed four current GEAR UP staff members and two former GEAR UP staff members, (two of whom were involved in GEAR UP and the Step Up Scholars program from its very beginning); two high school administrators and six counselors, whose schools had large numbers of Step Up Scholars; and three former Step Up Scholars, who are currently community college students. We also drew on survey data from 308 Step Up Scholar respondents. Even though the survey had a low response rate, it provides some idea of student experiences with the program.

In this brief, we begin with a history and description of the Step Up Scholars program and then share perspectives from key stakeholders—GEAR UP staff members, high school counselors and administrators, and students—about the program’s impact. We found stakeholders consistently emphasized the program’s broad influence on statewide educational policy and practice, yet were unsure of its impact on individual participants, called Step Up Scholars. The last two sections provide a brief overview of an upcoming impact study to identify the causal effect of Step Up, and some guiding questions for education leaders and policymakers that can inform discussions of how to improve students’ college readiness and success.

You can download the full report with the link below.