Local students attending the University of Hawai‘i may soon have access to a free tuition scholarship at four-year campuses.
House Bill 2250 has crossed over from the House to the Senate for further consideration – a step closer to passing through this Legislative session.
Hawaiʻi Promise would provide scholarships for the unmet direct cost needs of qualified students enrolled in bachelor's degree programs in teaching, health care, social work, or engineering and will commit to work for at least three years in Hawaiʻi upon graduation.
The “last dollar” scholarship program began in 2017, stemming from an annual appropriation of $1.8 million from the Legislature. The state-funded program has assisted about 1,400 community college students. The average award is $1,200.
“College tuition is expensive,” Rep. Nadine Nakamura, who introduced the bill, said.
“For many low and moderate income students, the cost is prohibitive. Since the best way to seek a higher income and quality of life is through higher education, I've been promoting this bill.”
Nakamura said she focused the bill on “shortage areas in the state” because “we have a current and projected gap of workers in these fields” and that the stateʻs resources should be targeted toward meeting those needs.
Lawmakers stated that qualifications and expectations, such as maintaining a specific grade point average, are so that the program will lead to “stronger educational outcomes, an improved quality of life for participating students, and a stronger economy for Hawaiʻi in general.”
As this is the third year since the Hawaiʻi Promise Program has been introduced, Nakamura said thereʻs been many changes along the way.
“We removed the four-year requirement to receive the scholarship since many students do not graduate in four-years,” she said. “Many students have to work or may not get into the class they need to graduate, so may not be going to school full-time.”
Another concern was about students actually working in Hawaiʻi after graduation, which would give support to the state by adding a three-year work requirement or the scholarship would turn into a loan.
Now that itʻs crossed over from the House to the Senate, Nakamura said that she has been collaborating with UH and the Senate and is expecting a “detailed review of testimony for and against this bill.”
“Testimony from students would be extremely helpful,” Nakamura said.
“Hawaiʻi Promise students borrowed 14% less in loans, earned more credits, had higher passing rates and were more likely to continue their education, when compared to peers who weren't part of the program,” according to UH.