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Column by the Chancellor in Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce Newsletter: December 2011

Message from UH Hilo Chancellor Donald O. Straney
Chamber Connection Newsletter
Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce
December 2011

Donations for scholarships are a sound investment in the future of our island

In the face of an uncertain economy, the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo enrolled the largest number of students in our history this past fall. This demand for our programs tells us that access to higher education is more valued than ever before. We have had to tighten our budget significantly this year, but private support from donors is providing a critical margin of excellence and ensuring that our students are continuously challenged to reach their highest level of achievement.

In my column last month, I told you about a report by Complete College America stating that by 2020, 68% of jobs in Hawai‘i will require a career certificate or college degree, but currently only 41% of adults have a college degree. The gap: 27%. For a strong economy, the report states, the skills gap must be closed. We simply will not have enough skilled workers to meet the needs of our economy unless many more college and university students graduate. One way to address this challenge is through scholarships.

UH Hilo offers many opportunities to establish undergraduate scholarships to ensure that every young person on our island has access to higher education. Individuals and organizations donate funds to UH Hilo for scholarships because they see it as an investment in the future: scholarships enable more students to prepare to enter the workforce.

This year, UH Hilo students are benefiting from the largest amount of private scholarship support in the history of this institution. In fiscal year 2011, UH Hilo raised $1,618,148, the largest number of private scholarship dollars in history. Between 2000 and 2011, UH Hilo’s scholarship endowment grew from $942,000 to $3.4 million. Two weeks ago we received $27,000 from the Order of the Eastern Star, the largest fraternal organization that both women and men may join.

At least 70 percent of UH Hilo’s 4,000+ students depend on some form of financial aid to fund the cost of attending the university. For first year students at UH Hilo, the percentage is even higher: 75 percent of freshmen are receiving financial aid. In fact, UH Hilo has the highest percentage of students receiving aid of any of the 10 campuses in the UH System. The UH Hilo Financial Aid office receives almost 7,000 applications for financial aid and awards over $42 million in support to students annually. Private scholarships account for about 1% of this aid, or $450,000. Most students put together funds from many different sources in order to pay for their education, starting with support from families or personal savings, plus federal Pell Grants, federal work-study funds, student loans, and one or more private scholarships.

Almost 42% of UH Hilo students qualify for Pell grants, the federal aid reserved for students with the highest financial need. This academic year, for the first time in history, the maximum Pell grant failed to meet the full cost of resident tuition at UH Hilo.

It’s clear what a vitally important role our private donors play in ensuring the academic success of our students; scholarships support students to complete their education and contribute to their communities. Behind every scholarship there is an individual or a company that has a connection to UH Hilo and a desire to help our students. On behalf of the university community, I’d like to take this opportunity to express gratitude to our donors. I hope that all members of the Chamber will be inspired and motivated to make an investment in the future of our island by funding a scholarship.

Don Straney

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