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A college education from the University of Hawaiʻi 10 campuses offers a significant return on investment, no matter the degree type—and has gotten more affordable over the last decade, according to a UH Economic Research Organization (UHERO) report released January 16, 2024. Using data from a census of UH students, UHERO researchers found that lifetime earnings are:

  • $2.8 million for bachelor’s degree holders, 27% higher compared to those who left the program without a degree
  • $2.7 million for Associate of Science (AS) and Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree holders, 22% higher than compared to those who left without a degree
  • 33% higher for certificate holders compared to those who left without completing their program (nine years after graduation)

Associate in Arts degree holders who go on to earn their bachelor degrees see an even higher increase in financial benefits because of the lower cost of community college tuition.

“The main takeaway is that despite this narrative at the national level that college degrees aren’t a worthwhile investment, we’re finding that specifically from the University of Hawaiʻi campuses, a college degree is definitely a worthwhile investment,” said Rachel Inafuku, UHERO research economist and report author.


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UHERO also found that while college tuition has significantly increased nationally over the last 20 years, even after adjusting for inflation, tuition within the UH system has become more affordable over the last decade. The report found that in-state tuition across UH campuses has seen a 3 to 5% decrease in real terms since 2013–14, when accounting for the rise of inflation over the same time period.

“Our mission is to provide a quality higher education to the people of Hawaiʻi and the key is keeping it affordable,” said UH Vice President for Academic Strategy Debora Halbert. “One of the things that we’ve really tried to do over the past few years is to ensure that our tuition isn’t increasing at the same rate as other states have seen their tuition increase.”

Tuition will continue to remain stable through 2027 after the UH regents approved a tuition freeze for all UH campuses with a 2% increase at UH Mānoa, UH Hilo and UH West Oʻahu scheduled for fall 2026 and fall 2027.

Boosts economic mobility

By using data on UH students who qualified for federal financial aid, specifically Pell Grants, the report also found that college completion significantly boosts economic mobility for individuals from lower socioeconomic households. UHERO researchers say a UH degree potentially eliminates labor market obstacles that this socioeconomic group typically faces, like up to 15% less in wages compared to other groups.

“We show that the University of Hawaiʻi is a major promoter of social mobility across generations in the state so that kids coming out of lower socioeconomic households have higher rates of return,” said Tim Halliday, UH Mānoa professor of economics, UHERO research fellow and report author.

To further assist students with proven financial need, UH is asking the legislature to expand the Hawaiʻi Promise scholarship program to all 10 campuses. The scholarship, which covers direct costs of education not covered by federal grants and other scholarships, is currently only available to students at UH’s seven community colleges.

The UHERO report reaffirms decades of national data that typically shows that college graduates earn more money over their lifetimes; live longer, healthier lives; have more job opportunities; higher job satisfaction; are less likely to lose their job during an economic downturn; less likely to need government assistance; etc., compared to their peers who did not attend college.

See UHERO report.

UHERO is housed in UH Mānoa’s College of Social Sciences.

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