UH hopes to offer free education to eligible students

LIHUE — The University of Hawaii wants to provide a free education to community college students in financial need.

UH is working with state leaders to secure $2.5 million to implement a scholarship program called Hawaii’s Promise.

“The best way to lift people out of poverty is to address educational inequality and provide access to higher education; Hawaii’s Promise does exactly that,” said John Morton, UH vice president for community colleges.

The goal of Hawaii’s Promise is to remove cost as a barrier to higher education, clearing the path for community college students to complete their education without taking out student loans.

The program would cover tuition, fees, books, supplies and transportation expenses.

While Hawaii’s Promise is in its inception, some Kauai Community College students hope it becomes reality.

“It would be great. I mean, if they could cover all costs like tuition, travel and books, that would be great,” said Jeris Lizama, KCC financial aid student worker.

A free education would go a long way to helping Lizama and the students he works with, he said.

“This would encourage a lot of students who don’t have the funds to attend college,” Lizama said.

Many students in the UH system, particularly at KCC, work part- or full-time jobs to cover tuition and books. Some students, like Rhief Callahan, take online courses to save money by living at home.

“It costs an arm and a leg to go to school,” Callahan said. “I’m on financial aid and have a couple scholarships, so this program would be awesome. It would definitely make things easier for me.”

Callahan takes most of his UH West Oahu classes online; he takes any classes that might need a pre-requisite at KCC. By going to school this way, he will receive a degree from West Oahu in business administration.

Brittany Uribe said the program could give people who never saw college as an option a chance to further their education.

“I do know a few people who didn’t attend college because they didn’t have the funding for it, even though they could’ve gotten some help through programs like FAFSA or scholarships,” said Uribe, a kinesiology major at KCC.

Eligible students would have to qualify for resident tuition and be enrolled in a degree or certificate program at a UH community college for a minimum of six credits per semester.

“We already have financial aid from the federal government, the university itself, private donors and through the UH Foundation, Kamehameha Schools and employers, but there’s still a gap that prevents many from pursuing their higher education,” said Morton. “This program will completely close that gap.”

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