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Kupuna program proposed at UH-Hilo

A Hawaii Island lawmaker wants to start a pilot program at the University of Hawaii at Hilo allowing kupuna to take classes for free or at a reduced price.

State Rep. Richard Creagan, D-Naalehu, Ocean View, Captain Cook, Kealakekua, Kailua-Kona, said his bill would allow seniors age 60 and older to take UH-Hilo classes free of charge and for no credit. Seniors wanting to take classes for credit could do so at a reduced cost, he said.

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The five-year pilot program would start in fall 2019 and end in 2024.

There’s no startup cost listed in the bill language, but Creagan said it probably would be minimal. He said a discounted tuition rate hasn’t been determined, but his goal is 50 percent off. He said his next move is to speak to campus leadership to get input about the idea.

“I think UH-Hilo is a perfect test for this because its enrollment has been dropping and they want to boost enrollment,” Creagan said Thursday. “And people 60 and older are staying in the workforce — many are actually training for new jobs that might require education for credentialing. So someone who is 60 and decides they’ve always wanted to be a teacher, but they’re retired, that’s really useful for our community.”

Hawaii Island’s senior population is growing. In 2016, 19.1 percent of the island’s residents were 65 and older, an increase from 14.5 percent in 2010, according to U.S. Census data. For comparison, Oahu’s 65-and-older population increased from 14.5 percent in 2010 to 16.6 percent in 2016.

Some research shows continuing education also can delay the onset of symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, the bill says.

UH-Manoa features a Senior Citizen Visitor Program/Na Kupuna Program that similarly allows seniors to take classes for free and for no credit. About 300 seniors attend classes through that program, according to its website.

The bill calls for a written progress report of the UH-Hilo pilot program by the start of the 2024 Legislature.

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Creagan’s bill is filed as House Bill 1886. It’s been referred to the House higher education and finance committees. Its companion, filed as Senate Bill 2596, is co-signed by state Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, and state Sen. Josh Green, a Democrat who represents Kona and Ka‘u.

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