Close to 1,000 students enrolled at the University of Hawaii’s community colleges stand to benefit from a new state-funded scholarship designed to eliminate cost as a barrier to higher education.
An estimated 996 students statewide are eligible to have their tuition and other direct attendance costs completely covered this fall, thanks to the Hawaii Promise program, which was established with $1.8 million from the Legislature. The individual awards range from a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars a year at the community college campuses, where annual resident tuition is just under $3,800 for full-time students.
The program will act as a so-called “last-dollar scholarship” that kicks in after all other federal aid — such as Pell grants — and public and private scholarships are exhausted.
“If we reach a point where there is still a certain amount of unmet need not yet covered by grants, that’s the Hawaii Promise program: It’s a last-dollar scholarship that closes that gap so we can truly say to that student, ‘It’s covered,’” John Morton, UH’s vice president for community colleges, said in an interview.
COST TO ATTEND UH COMMUNITY COLLEGES
>> Resident tuition: $3,780 per year*
>> Fees: $80
>> Books, supplies, transportation: $1,202
>> Total direct costs: $5,062
* Based on 30 credits a year at $126 per credit
Source: University of Hawaii
STUDENTS RECEIVING HAWAII PROMISE SCHOLARSHIPS FOR 2017-18
>> Hawaii Community College: 101
>> Honolulu Community College: 92
>> Kapiolani Community College: 188
>> Kauai Community College: 85
>> Leeward Community College: 271
>> UH Maui College: 169
>> Windward Community College: 90
>> Total: 996
Source: University of Hawaii
To determine eligibility, students have to demonstrate financial need as defined by the federal government through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, for direct attendance costs: tuition, mandatory fees, books and transportation. The direct cost to attend one of UH’s seven community colleges is roughly $5,000 a year for residents when fees, books, supplies and transportation expenses are added in.
To be eligible, students also need to qualify for resident tuition, be enrolled in a degree program and take at least six credits — typically two classes — per semester. Students receiving Hawaii Promise funds will need to maintain their federal financial aid standing, which requires a minimum 2.0 grade point average and evidence of progression toward a degree.
The colleges — on four islands — specialize in career and vocational training programs including culinary arts, automotive technology, dental hygiene, veterinary technology, criminal justice and construction technology.
The $1.8 million in startup funding for Hawaii Promise was calculated based on the financial needs of existing students. Of the 24,000 students slated to attend a UH community college this fall, 1 out of every 3 students is receiving some form of need-based financial aid.
“But, of course, the real Hawaii Promise is to try to make that a promise to people who are not enrolled, to try to get them to recognize that coming to community college does not have to come out of their pocket if they have financial need,” Morton said.
He said the community college system will “deliver on the promise” for new students who enroll in the spring, using reserve funding if needed.
Morton credited former House Higher Education Chairman Isaac Choy for initiating the conversation around free community college here as national efforts were getting underway in some states. Choy two years ago proposed a bill that would have required UH to create a free-tuition pilot program for all students at Kauai Community College, UH’s smallest campus, using a $3 million appropriation.
Choy, who called himself “a big believer in vocational education,” said when he looked at the tuition revenue coming in from the community colleges, it was negligible.
“It was a drop in the bucket. I figured, if we’re only collecting that much money, it’s not even worth it, and we might as well give community college for free and see if we get more high school kids going to college,” Choy (D, Manoa-Punahou-Moiliili) said.
But he said Morton opposed the bill, explaining that for the $3 million proposed for Kauai, he could subsidize the cost of tuition, fees, books and transportation for all community college students with financial need.
University officials earlier this year took the idea to the state Capitol, where the proposal was warmly received by most lawmakers and the governor, who cited the initiative in his State of the State remarks.
“Programs such as Hawaii Promise removes cost barriers for anyone who wants to attend college, clearing the path for community college students to complete their education,” Ige said in an emailed statement. “Higher education is the key to higher paying jobs and a better quality of life.”
The chairmen of the House and Senate Higher Education committees had sought to expand the program’s reach to include undergraduate students at the four-year universities, UH Manoa and UH Hilo. That effort, which UH estimated would require a $13.5 million investment to subsidize attendance costs for some 4,200 students, could resurface next session.
Tuition-free initiatives have gained momentum nationally in recent years, after former President Barack Obama in 2015 pushed the idea and highlighted the Tennessee Promise program as an example.
Hawaii is one of 11 states with statewide tuition-free programs for public institutions, according to Martha Kanter, executive director of the College Promise Campaign, which was launched in 2015 by the Washington, D.C.-based Civic Nation to promote the idea of tuition-free college. Kanter is a former community college president and served as undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education under Obama.
In states with established programs like Tennessee, Kanter said, the impact is promising.
“We know that high school is not enough for success in the 21st century,” Kanter said in a phone interview. “What we’re seeing in terms of results is major increases in enrollment; opportunities, especially for first-generation students, students of color, students who haven’t had as many opportunities as students from wealthier families. In addition to that, we’re seeing persistence in college at higher rates. Those are the two pieces that I think are so critical.
“And I’m thrilled that Hawaii could launch such a boost of opportunity for thousands of students and future students who need higher education.”
A UH graduate with an associate’s degree on average makes $360,000 more in his or her lifetime over a high school classmate who never went to college, according to a recent analysis by UH economists. The average UH bachelor’s degree recipient, meanwhile, can expect to earn $950,000 more over a lifetime of living and working in Hawaii.