Chancellor urges Legislature to establish $2.5M financial aid fund

University of Hawaii Maui College Chancellor Lui Hokoana knows too well that students often cannot attend college or take just a few classes because they need to work full-time.

“The cost of living is very high, so what our students end up doing is working full-time and going to school part-time,” he said. “It’s almost impossible for them to be successful.

“With more financial aid, a student may have the option to work less hours at work and focus more on school.”

Hokoana and the University of Hawaii Community Colleges System are hoping the Legislature helps by establishing “Hawaii’s Promise,” a new scholarship program that aims to remove the cost barrier to higher education.

The $2.5 million pilot program aims to fill the gap when financial assistance is not enough by supplementing current programs, such as federal grants and state and  private scholarships.

At UH-Maui College, in the 2014-15 academic year, 287 students had financial aid or scholarships but had to foot the bill for the rest of their tuition. This unmet need totaled $367,539, a UH publication says.

All of the 287 did attend college, but officials said it is difficult to determine how many did not enroll because their financial aid fell short.

Overall, at UH’s seven community colleges, 993 students had unmet financial need, which totaled around $1.7 million.

“We don’t know why students don’t end up attending after they apply for financial aid,” Hokoana said. “But we do know that in the fall 2016 semester, we made financial aid awards to 350 students who did not enroll in college that semester. It could be that they didn’t get enough financial aid or it could be for another reason, too,” he said.

Approximately $1.7 million is needed to fully implement Hawaii’s Promise for the current student population, UH said. The balance of the $2.5 million being sought would be available to new students who would be attracted by the guarantee of “no direct costs.”

The Legislature seems to like the concept. In fact, members have put forward bills to expand the program to UH’s four-year university campuses, UH-Manoa and UH-West Oahu on Oahu and UH-Hilo on Hawaii island.

The cost of an expanded program is estimated to be around $13.5 million, said Maui Rep. Justin Woodson, chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education.

“I’m hopeful at least something will pass,” Woodson said.

UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said Tuesday that no hearings regarding the program have been scheduled yet, but he expects them soon.

Woodson said that the impact of the program will go beyond the students since families help their students with tuition.

“It’s a way we can lessen the burden of the family through the student and invest in our students,” he said.

To qualify for the program, students must be eligible for Hawaii resident tuition and be enrolled in a degree or certificate program at a UH community college for at least six credits per semester.

Students also will need to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to determine need and maintain standards of academic progress as defined by the Federal Title IV programs.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.


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