Bill signed by Ige to expand scholarship program

  • David Lassner

More students will get assistance with education costs after legislation expanding the Hawaii Promise scholarship program was signed by Gov. David Ige earlier this month.

Ige signed House Bill 2501, which codified and appropriated $700,000 for the Hawaii Promise program, an initiative that provides scholarships to help qualified students enrolled at any community college campus in the University of Hawaii system cover unmet education costs like tuition, books, supplies, fees and local transportation.

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UH President David Lassner said the university system had received a partial appropriation of $1.8 million for the Hawaii Promise program in the budget bill last year, but the program was not established in law.

Approval of this bill means the program now appears in Hawaii statutes, along with an additional appropriation of $700,000.

“We’re delighted to have it established in statute,” Lassner said by phone Wednesday. “We’re really pleased with the support this program has received from both the Legislature and the governor.”

The legislation is the first step in eliminating financial need as a barrier to enrollment to public higher education in Hawaii, he said.

Hawaii Promise targets tuition, fees and other direct costs, but Lassner said it doesn’t address “one of the major costs of going to college today, which is room and board. That’s something we would like to look at in the future.”

But addressing tuition and fees, he said, is a “wonderful, wonderful first step.”

Lassner said it’s known that attending college is the “best action an individual can take to enhance their economic mobility,” but family income is the greatest barrier to college attendance.

“This program squarely targets the people that need help the most — those who cannot afford college by evidence of having financial need,” he said. It’s “the best way we think we can help them advance economically in their community.”

East Hawaii in particular is a “fairly economically depressed part of the state,” said Lassner, and the current Kilauea eruptions “are certainly not making anything easier for anyone.”

The opportunity to help those who can’t otherwise afford to attend and “help them advance professional and economically is huge.”

And, by attending Hawaii Community College, Lassner said there’s also “educational mobility,” or the opportunity for students to transfer from HCC to a UH campus to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

“The governor is very supportive of this bill because he knows it provides access to higher education for students who might not otherwise be able to afford it,” said Cindy McMillan, a spokeswoman for Ige’s office, said. “That access provides them opportunities they would not have.”

The program will now be an annual budget item for the state.

Lassner said he would love to extend the program to UH’s four-year campuses in the future.

According to UH, approximately 1,500 students benefited from the Hawaii Promise scholarships, with an average grant of $1,200, after the program was implemented last fall, and it’s estimated that the new funding will support an addition 500 to 600 students for the 2018-19 school year.

HCC spokesman Thatcher Moats said 198 Big Island students have received the scholarship so far — 170 for the 2017-18 academic year and 28 so far for the 2018-19 year. Recipients have received an average of $1,109.

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There is no separate application for the Hawaii Promise scholarship. Prospective students are encouraged to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and enroll at a UH community college at least half time to be considered for all types of financial aid, including Hawaii Promise.

To learn more about the Hawaii Promise scholarship, contact the Hawaii Community College Financial Aid Office by email at hawccfao@hawaii.edu, by phone at 934-2712, or online at hawaii.hawaii.edu/financialaid/hawaiipromise.

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