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Chancellor’s Message: Together we can increase access to higher education

UH Hilo needs to offer many opportunities for students to access scholarships to ensure that every young person on our island has access to higher education. To achieve that, we need the community’s help.

By Don Straney 

Hilo sealStudents at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo are increasingly dependent on financial aid. While UH system policy established in 2011 called for an increase in the amount of tuition that is used to provide financial aid to our students, we recognize that even modest increases in costs can be a barrier to some. A high priority for us is to keep the UH system accessible to all eligible students in the state.

UH Hilo is blessed with donated funds for scholarships and other forms of aid that offset the impact of tuition increases. But we will need to increase scholarships over the next few years if we want to remain accessible to all our island students. To make college affordable to all, this must be a priority for our campus and for our community.

We know the university and local communities understand and care about the need to give access to as many students as possible. Studies show people who possess a college degree have a much higher lifetime earning potential than those who do not. People with a degree are better able to contribute to or build healthy communities.

But as tuition and other costs rise, higher education becomes less affordable to students from middle- and low-income families. Because of this, we need to do everything we can to give all qualified students access to the funds they need to attend the university.

Let me run some numbers by you.

We awarded $46 million in financial aid to our students last year. This is a tremendous increase from 10 years ago when we awarded $15 million. The bulk of the $46 million, almost 75%, is from state and federal grants and loans.

Institutional aid, which is the percentage of tuition I mentioned above (our intake of tuition was about $35 million last year), was increased from 15% to a cap of 20% of total tuition. It goes to need- and merit-based aid, and comes to about 11% of the total aid awarded.

Some students arrive at UH Hilo with financial aid they’ve received on their own. This would include sources like scholarships from their hometown Rotary Clubs or parents’ loans. This is about 12% of total aid.

The scholarships we are hoping to build are today less than 3% of the total aid awarded.

How do we increase financial aid for our students? How do we make UH Hilo accessible to all qualified students in our state?

UH Hilo needs to offer many opportunities for students to access scholarships to ensure that every young person on our island has access to higher education. To achieve that, we need the community’s help.

Behind every scholarship is an individual or a company that has a connection to UH Hilo and a desire to help our students. Individuals and organizations donate funds to UH Hilo for scholarships because they may see it as an investment in the future; scholarships enable more students to prepare to enter the workforce. Alumni donate funds because they may realize the importance of an education and want to pay forward the opportunities given them while at UH Hilo.

Longtime Hawaiʻi County Councilman Jimmy Arakaki and his wife Grace made a donation to establish an endowed scholarship to benefit business students. Audrey Furukawa, after her retirement from UH Hilo, established a scholarship endowment supporting study abroad opportunities. A charitable trust helps grow the Helene Hale “Citizen of the World” Scholarship Endowment.

It’s clear what a vitally important role private donors can play in opening up access to higher education. Scholarships support students to complete their education and contribute to their communities.

On behalf of our students, I’d like to take this opportunity to express gratitude to our donors. I hope members of our university and local communities, business people, alumni, and others will be inspired to make an investment in the future of our island by funding scholarships.