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Hawaii joins effort for free community college

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University of Hawaii Community College students work on a project to develop small payloads for space flight.

Photo: UH

The University of Hawaii (UH) wants to provide free community college for all students with financial needs through a scholarship program called Hawaii’s Promise.

The university is working with state leaders to secure the $2.5 million in funding needed to implement the pilot program that would impact an estimated thousand students.

The goal of Hawaii’s Promise is to remove cost as a barrier to higher education, clearing the path for community college students to complete their education without taking out student loans, according to university officials.

“The best way to lift people out of poverty is to address educational inequality and provide access to higher education; Hawaii’s Promise does exactly that,” UH Vice President for Community Colleges John Morton said in a press release. “The university is responsible for preparing Hawaii’s citizens for the modern workforce by ensuring access to quality higher education and the many benefits that come from it.”

Video on Hawaii's Promise


Hawaii’s Promise is a last-dollar scholarship that would provide any financial needs not met by other forms of financial aid, such as federal grants and benefits and scholarships from UH, employers and other private sources. The program would cover tuition, fees, books, supplies and transportation.

“We already have financial aid from the federal government, the university itself, private donors and through the UH Foundation, Kamehameha Schools and employers, but there’s still a gap that prevents many from pursuing their higher education,” Morton said. “This program will completely close that gap.”

If the program becomes a reality, eligible students will have to qualify for Hawaii resident tuition and be enrolled in a degree or certificate program at a UH community college for at least six credits per semester. Students will also need to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to determine their unmet need and maintain standards of academic progress as defined by federal Title IV programs.

The university hopes that with the success of the program in the community colleges, it can expand Hawaii’s Promise to undergraduate students at all 10 campuses.

Hawaii is part of a wave of states, colleges and other stakeholders that have recently proposed or implemented plans to offer free community college to quailifying students. Earlier this month, the governors of New York and Rhode Island proposed their own plans.
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