The University of Hawaiʻi is asking the legislature for funding to expand a successful scholarship program for students with demonstrated financial need to UH‘s three, four-year campuses.

In 2017, the Legislature began appropriating $1.8 million on an annual basis to the University of Hawaiʻi Community Colleges to create a scholarship program for students who qualify for resident tuition with financial need called the Hawaiʻi Promise program. This program assists approximately 1,400 community college students statewide annually by providing the “last dollar” they need to cover the direct costs of their education.

Results from Hawaiʻi Promise are extremely positive:

  • Less student loan debt: Hawaiʻi Promise awardees took out student loans at about the same rate as non-awardees (16 percent vs. 17 percent). However, for those who took out loans, Hawaiʻi Promise recipients borrowed 14 percent less than their peers: $4,972 vs. $5,679 (average loan).
  • More credits earned: In 2018–19, more Hawaiʻi Promise recipients attempted and earned more credits than non-Hawaiʻi Promise awardees.
  • Better grades: Hawaiʻi Promise recipients had higher passing rates than their peers, and they earned higher grades than their peers. In each term since Hawaiʻi Promise began, scholarship recipients have earned a 3.0 grade point average or better.
  • Higher persistence and completion rates: Hawaiʻi Promise recipients were more likely to continue their education than peers who did not receive Hawaiʻi Promise scholarships. Of new students who enrolled in a UH community college and received a Hawaiʻi Promise scholarship in fall 2018 and who who have not yet graduated, 67 percent continued to be enrolled in fall 2019 compared with 58 percent of their peers who did not receive a Hawaiʻi Promise scholarship.

Alejandra’s story

Alejandra Ramirez
Alejandra Ramirez

One beneficiary was UH Maui College’s Alejandra Ramirez, a 2017 Baldwin High school graduate, and the only child of two immigrants.

“It made a huge difference,” said Ramirez. “I’m a first generation college student so I didn’t know what to expect or what to do when going to college.”

After earning associate’s degrees in liberal arts and public administration, the aspiring lawyer’s educational journey came to a halt. She found out there was nothing like Hawaiʻi Promise at UH West Oʻahu, where she was planning to pursue a degree in criminal justice.

“It was like my whole life was just put on pause,” recalled Ramirez. “I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I was just 100 percent sure, ‘Okay, I’m going to go to West Oʻahu and pursue a bachelor’s degree.’ but then when I realized the cost of it, I was just shocked. I didn’t know what to do. I was just stuck.”

Proposed expansion

Ramirez’s solution may be a UH proposal to expand Hawaiʻi Promise to qualified students attending UH’s four-year campuses at Mānoa, Hilo and West Oʻahu at a cost of $17.7 million. It would serve more than 5,000 students like Ramirez, who qualify for financial assistance.

“They should support Hawaiʻi Promise, because it really changes the lives of people,” Ramirez said.

Many of the higher paying jobs in Hawaiʻi require a bachelorʻs degree, and on average, a bachelor’s degree holder earns $1 million more throughout their lifetime than someone with a high school degree. In addition, those with college degrees are healthier, less likely to be incarcerated at public expense, draw on fewer social services, vote more, volunteer more and are less likely to become unemployed during a recession.

Ramirez is hoping other Hawaiʻi Promise beneficiaries will add their voices in support of the expansion.

She said, “I think it’s really important for people [to] submit testimony and also give their story and make it clear how this scholarship really helped them.”

—By Kelli Trifonovitch

family at graduation
Alejandra Ramirez graduated from Baldwin High School in 2017.