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There was a time in Hawaiʻi when going to college was reserved for only an elite few.

“Going to college was something that maybe only the top part of high school class did,” explains Univerity of Hawaiʻi Vice President for Community Colleges John Morton. ”The likelihood that you as an adult would go back to college was rare.”

That changed in 1964 when the state legislature passed a law that created the University of Hawaiʻi Community College System.

“What the law did back in 1964 was create that opportunity for anyone to be able to go on to higher education, reap those benefits,” continutes Morton. “As a result, we have a better Hawaiʻi.”

2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the passage of that law and the creation of the UHCC System that consists of seven community colleges across the state. A yearlong celebration kicked off in March at the annual College Day at the state capitol.

educational exhibit
UH Kapiʻolani’s marsbot display at College Day 2014 at the State Capitol
lawmakers and educators
Hawaiʻi Senate certificate presentation in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the UH Community Colleges

The event started with an oli, or chant, followed by a symbolic moment of how higher education can open the door to a happier and more prosperous life: the chancellors of each college each opened a door representing their schools as students walked through.

Each college set up multiple hands-on activities and presentations representing various programs. Lawmakers also presented UH with commemorative certificates in recognition of what the UH community colleges have given over the decades and continue to give to thousands of Hawaiʻi citizens: affordable, quality, higher education.

“We believe strongly that higher education is good not just for the individual, but good for society,” Morton says emphatically. “People get good jobs, they contribute, they become part of the fabric of this community.”

UH makes that opportunity accessible with a community college on Hawaiʻi Island, Maui, Kauaʻi and four on Oʻahu. The schools offer a pathway to UH Mānoa and other four-year institutions while offering degrees and certificates in a wide range of fields from culinary to construction, auto mechanics to fashion.

“We are a major provider of the skilled workforce here in Hawaiʻi, from some of the trade to some of the highest technical fields there are but like I say, it’s anybody,” according to Morton. “We actually saw a graduate last year who started in 1965 and finally graduated this year, a lifelong dream come true and that’s what we are all about, creating those dreams.”

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