UH-Hilo expects big increase in financial aid payouts

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Holding true to projections, the University of Hawaii at Hilo is on track to award what could be a record amount of financial aid next year.

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Holding true to projections, the University of Hawaii at Hilo is on track to award what could be a record amount of financial aid next year.

The Hilo campus has pledged $55 million to 2,852 students for the 2017-18 school year so far, increasing the total number of students awarded aid by about 250 over this time last year, Sherrie Padilla, enrollment services manager said Friday.

Last year, the campus dispensed $43.1 million in financial aid. In 2015, it paid out $42.4 million and in 2014, about $46 million.

Aid includes state and federal grants, loans and merit-based and need-based aid.

This year’s current number isn’t entirely set in stone — the actual amount paid out will depend on how many students take advantage of their financial aid package and enroll in the fall, Padilla said.

“But it is an increase (this year) in the amount we’ve awarded out,” she said.

It isn’t entirely clear why more students are receiving aid. Hawaii County unemployment was a little more than 3 percent in May, the lowest its been in about 10 years. UH-Hilo tuition rates also are set to remain the same next year.

Earlier this year, UH-Hilo administrators worried the number of students receiving aid next year could actually decrease because a major tax data retrieval tool students use to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid was taken offline, creating headaches for about 360 aid applicants.

The federal Department of Education later relaxed application rules, which Padilla said seems to have mitigated the problem.

Padilla said the latest spike could be attributed to students completing the FAFSA earlier this year coupled with what could be an increase in entering freshmen next year.

“Our hope is that more students are aware of financial aid and more are applying,” Padilla said. “We’re hoping there’s been more awareness and (students) are utilizing what’s available.”

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In all, about 75 percent of UH-Hilo students receive some sort of aid. About 45 percent qualify for Pell Grants, which are federal subsidies awarded to low-income students. The campus receives about 8,000 financial aid applications each year.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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