The Hawai’i Community College System’s Response to COVID-19

A scholarship program in Hawai'i seeks to help adults begin the process of recareering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While all states have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, states and communities that rely on tourism for a significant number of jobs have been hit particularly hard. With numbers of new cases still rising in many areas across the country, travel is likely to be difficult for a while longer. To learn about the University of Hawai’i (UH) community colleges’ response to the pandemic, ACCT spoke with Erika Lacro, Vice President for Community Colleges, and Tammi Chun, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs.

In Hawai’i, the state tourism authority reported that visitors to the islands spent $17.6 billion in 2018. The pandemic essentially ended the vast majority of that revenue stream. Across the state, the University of Hawai’i reported that nearly 20% of all businesses have had effectively zero revenue since January, with another 20% losing half of their monthly revenue. This revenue loss resulted in a record unemployment rate of 22.3% in April of this year. 

In an effort to help prospective students who have been furloughed or are unemployed as a result of the pandemic, the University of Hawai’i community colleges announced the Kūlia Scholarship. The goal of the scholarship is to help Hawai’i residents begin the process of reskilling for a new career. Ms. Chun led the system’s effort to create new program with the goal to rapidly assist out-of-work Hawai’i residents, especially individuals from the hotel and tourism industry. Because the pandemic struck outside of the typical timelines, prospective students are challenge to secure private scholarships and timely award of financial aid. The UH community colleges established the new scholarship quickly as a new source for student aid. To meet the urgent needs in the community, the system was able to leverage an existing rapid response fund which provides support in the wake of a local economic disruption, such as the closing of a large company. 

With the scholarship, eligible students can take one class, up to three credits, for free, including fees and required books, at any of the seven community colleges in the University of Hawai’i system. The value of the scholarship is approximately $500. Furthermore, the scholarship is aimed at students who have not recently completed a postsecondary degree or credentials at a UH institution within the last two years.

Although a scholarship for a single class may not seem like much, for many community college students, small amounts of financial aid can have a big impact. The University of Hawai’i Economic Research Organization found that, on average, for every $1 a University of Hawai’i student invests in their associate degree, they receive $13.84 in increased lifetime earnings. 

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