‘Hawaii Promise’ Scholarships Available for Community College Students

Star-Advertiser 2 June 2018, “Scholarship opens doors to community colleges for students” by Susan Essoyan

Hawaii Promise, a “last-dollar” scholarship that aims to remove cost as a barrier to attending community college, became a permanent program when Gov. David Ige signed it into law Friday.

Launched last fall, Hawaii Promise helped 1,500 students at a cost of $2.2 million in the last academic year and is projected to benefit another 500 in the coming year.

Student Kelley Caitano, who is from Hawaii island and is working his way through Honolulu Community College with help from Hawaii Promise, expressed his thanks at the bill signing, held on his campus.

“The scholarship itself helped me not focus on the payments I had to make, but on school itself, so it actually took a big load off of my shoulders,” said Caitano, who is in the Computing, Electronics and Networking Technology program.

Aimed at local residents, Hawaii Promise funds are awarded to students in need after they receive public and private scholarships and grants, such as federal Pell grants. Legislators set aside $1.8 million for the program in its first year, and the community colleges dipped into their operating reserves to reach students with unmet needs. The average award was $1,200.

“Hawaii Promise is a program to fill the gap between what a family can afford and the actual cost of a community college here in Hawaii,” Ige said Friday. “For many of our students, the barriers to college aren’t necessarily academic. The biggest barrier is the cost of tuition, fees, books and loan obligations.”

House Bill 2501, CD 1, codified the program in law and added an additional $700,000 at the university’s request, bringing the total to $2.5 million over the biennium. It will allow community colleges to draw in more prospective students who believe they can’t afford college.

“We can get out there now and say, ‘This promise is for you — please come!’” said John Morton, vice president for community colleges.

Hawaii Promise funds may apply to any unmet direct educational costs, including tuition, educational fees and the cost of books, supplies and transport between the student’s home and campus.

For Aukai Rieman, a father of four who lives in Nanakuli, the transportation subsidy through Hawaii Promise made a big difference. He commuted to Honolulu Community College to earn his associate’s degree in Hawaiian studies and plans to attend the University of Hawaii at Manoa and major in biology with hopes of doing research on ciguatera, the fish toxin.

“I want to help not just Native Hawaiians, but all people,” he said.

State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim said Hawaii Promise should help boost enrollment at community colleges, which has slipped in recent years. “Where better to start than our community colleges, the colleges that are in our neighborhoods where we grew up?” she said. “We all win when this happens.”

Students must qualify for in-state tuition and enroll in one of the seven UH community colleges at least half time to be eligible for Hawaii Promise. The scholarship doesn’t require a separate application, but students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

To learn more about Hawaii Promise, call the university at 956-8753 or email uhsfao@hawaii.edu.