Funding the Hawaii Promise Scholarship is expected to cost $23 million a year.

A fledgling program that covers tuition and other costs for University of Hawaii community college students who are residents and can demonstrate financial need, called the Promise Scholarship, could be expanded soon to four-year colleges as well.

The Promise program covers the direct costs of higher education, such as tuition fees and supplies. One of the goals of the program is to increase the graduation rate of Hawaii residents and to have more people in the workforce with either two- or four-year college degrees.

The idea of expanding the program has come up before, but it never passed. This year, lawmakers are advancing House Bill 390, which would fund the Promise program at UH’s three four-year universities in Hilo, Manoa and West Oahu. It faces a hearing in the House Finance Committee next.

University of Hawaii at Manoa campus with a view of the entrance to Hawaii Hall.
Lawmakers are advancing a $23 million proposal to cover the cost of tuition for Hawaii residents at UH. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran said that in the first few years of the Promise program, there was not enough data to see if this program had been successful yet. Concerns also have been raised about the program’s costs and who ultimately will pay for it. 

“It’s all about how much money we have,” Keith-Agaran said. “People keep looking at the fact we have, supposedly, a $2 billion surplus, but looking forward, we are looking at a six-year time horizon, so we don’t see $2 billion a year going forward.” 

The state’s budget proposal sets aside $23 million in each of the next two fiscal years for UH to expand the Promise Program at four-year institutions. The funding will also cover the program costs for UH community colleges.

House Higher Education Committee Chairwoman Amy Perruso said she has introduced several bills that would generate the money for this bill, and the $2 billion surplus has nothing to do with pushing for this bill. 

Instead, she said, “It’s the right thing to do.” 

She proposed bills such as House Bill 148, which would create an additional tax on vacant property, and House Bill 150, which would raise taxes for high-earners, to fund the expansion of the promise program. Neither have been scheduled for hearings yet.

  • Stories By University Of Hawaii Students

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