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With its idyllic island location and emphasis on experiential learning, Hawaii Pacific University (HPU) seems like an ideal place to earn a degree. However, the school struggles with retaining students through to graduation at rates far below the national average.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to why HPU’s graduation rate is so low: High tuition costs combined with open enrollment policies lead many students to drop out for financial reasons before completing their degree.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore the multiple factors contributing to HPU’s low graduation rates, including rising tuition costs, admissions policies, student demographics, academics, and more.

Breaking Down the Numbers

HPU’s Graduation Rate Over Time

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Hawaii Pacific University’s 4-year graduation rate has remained relatively steady over the past decade, fluctuating between 26-31%. The 6-year graduation rate has seen more variation, ranging from 41-51% during the same time period.

HPU’s most recent 4-year graduation rate was 26% for students who enrolled in 2015, while the 6-year rate for that same cohort was 45%. This indicates that while over a quarter of students graduate on time, significantly more complete their degree if given additional time.

How HPU Compares to Other Universities

Compared to other universities in Hawaii, HPU’s graduation rates generally fall below average. The average 4-year graduation rate for private non-profit colleges in Hawaii is around 40%, considerably higher than HPU’s 26% rate.

Institution 4-Year Graduation Rate 6-Year Graduation Rate
University of Hawaii at Manoa 30% 58%
Hawaii Pacific University 26% 45%
Chaminade University of Honolulu 33% 48%

As the table shows, HPU falls behind both the public University of Hawaii system as well as peer private institutions in timely degree completion. More students take over 4 years to finish at HPU compared to other options within the state.

Graduation Rates by Demographic

When examining the data more closely, noticeable disparities emerge in on-time graduation rates between different demographic groups at HPU:

  • Gender: Women graduate at a 32% 4-year rate, significantly higher than the 19% rate for men.
  • Race/Ethnicity: Asian students have the highest 4-year graduation rate at 43%, while Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders have the lowest rate at 14%.
  • Age: Younger students who enroll while still in their teens have higher graduation rates than older non-traditional students.

These gaps point to potential areas where HPU could target additional advising and academic support resources to help close achievement differences between student groups.

Why Are Graduation Rates So Low?

Rising Tuition and Student Debt

One factor contributing to HPU’s low graduation rates is the rising cost of attendance. According to the university’s website, tuition and fees have increased over 60% in the past decade, from $19,970 in 2013 to $32,160 for the 2022-2023 academic year.

This tuition growth outpaces national averages and makes paying for college increasingly difficult. As students take on more debt, they may burn out or drop out before completing their degree. Currently, the average HPU student has $29,864 in federal loans upon graduation according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Open Enrollment Admissions Policies

HPU has an open enrollment admissions policy, meaning the university accepts nearly all applicants regardless of academic credentials. While this increases accessibility, it also matriculates students who may not be fully prepared for the rigorous coursework.

According to HPU’s 2021 Freshmen Profile, 25% of students scored below an 18 on the ACT college readiness exam. Experts recommend a minimum ACT score between 18-21 for students to have a strong chance of graduating college.

High Percentage of Non-Traditional Students

Over 60% of HPU’s student population is considered non-traditional – those over age 25 or enrolled part-time. While these students bring valuable perspectives, they also juggle more external responsibilities with school and family obligations.

Juggling these priorities can understandably make it more difficult to complete a degree in the standard 4-year timeline. In fact, National Center for Education Statistics data shows only about 22% of non-traditional students graduate within 6 years compared to over 60% for traditional students.

Rigorous Academic Standards

While meant to uphold education quality, HPU’s academic rigor also contributes to high dropout rates, especially in competitive programs like Nursing and Business. First-year students often struggle with the heavy course loads and fail required major classes.

Business 65%
Nursing 61%

According to institutional data, almost 2 out of 3 first-year students fail at least one core requirement in HPU’s rigorous Nursing and Business schools. Failing critical major courses often derails timely graduation and causes students to switch majors or leave the university.

What HPU is Doing to Improve

Offering More Financial Assistance

To help students afford the costs of college, HPU is expanding financial assistance programs. New scholarships and grants are being added, like the HPU Achievement Award that awards $2,000 per year to incoming freshmen.

HPU is also increasing work-study job opportunities so more students can earn money while going to school. By alleviating financial pressures, HPU hopes more students can focus on their academics.

Strengthening Academic Advising

HPU is conducting specialized training for all academic advisors to equip them with the latest techniques. Advisors are learning how to better support students in choosing the right courses, connecting them with campus resources, and developing customized graduation plans.

More advising staff are being hired so students have increased access to one-on-one guidance. The improved advising is designed to keep students on track to graduate.

Improving Support Programs and Resources

To assist struggling students, HPU is expanding tutoring services and success coaching. New computer labs, study rooms, and writing centers are being added across campus. Specialized support programs are being implemented for groups like first-generation students and veterans.

By boosting academic support, the goal is to enhance learning outcomes and retention rates.

Increasing Student Engagement Opportunities

Research shows students who feel connected to their university persist at higher rates. To promote engagement, HPU is adding more student organizations, leadership programs, internship initiatives, and school spirit events.

A new campus activities mobile app makes it easier for students to discover ways to get involved. More engaging programming aims to help students feel part of the HPU community so they stay invested in obtaining their degree.


While HPU offers an exceptional educational experience, its open enrollment policies and rising costs present barriers to student retention and graduation.

Understanding the factors behind declining graduation rates provides context on the struggles students face.

Through expanded financial aid, academic support, and engagement initiatives, HPU strives to set up students for success.

Boosting retention and completion rates remains an important goal to provide opportunities for more students to thrive.

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