A bill that would guarantee that every student in Hawaii enough money to pay for college has cleared its first hurdle at the state Legislature.
House Bill Number 1594 was unanimously passed with amendments by the Higher Education Department last week. The bill aims to “establish the Hawaii Promise Program,” which would give money to all qualifying University of Hawaii campus students for school costs not otherwise covered by other scholarships and grants.
Justin Woodson, the Department of Higher Education Chair, and seven other representatives gathered on Feb. 9 to discuss the bill.
Meiyi Wong, a HonCC Spring semester graduate, testified in the bill’s support.
“Tuition and cost of books keeps going up,” she said. She believes that learners can grow to their fullest potential and “do jobs that they want to do” if they did not have to worry about severe monetary losses and debt.
Other scholars and citizens testified in favor of the money-saving potential of HB 1594, as well. Some were UH West Oahu and Manoa students, Leeward Community College students, and Waipahu High School juniors and seniors. Presidents and representatives of various organizations, like the Hawaiian Association for Progressive Action and the Filipino American Citizens League, also favored it.
On the day after the hearing, over 50 written testimonies, including many from UH students, were posted on the Hawaii State Legislature’s website.
Representative Woodson strongly affirmed that HB 1594 is a benefit to Hawai’i. He “[classifies] it as Hawaii’s version of free college.” Woodson also emphasized the program’s focus on the less-fortunate scholars. He said that “those who can afford college without a FAFSA…are not eligible.”
The bill works hand-in-hand with the Hawai’i Graduation Initiative (expanding Hawaii’s educational capital) and the 55 By ‘25 program (having 55% of working-age adults have a Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree).
Amendments to HB 1594 added that “the program shall provide scholarships for the unmet direct costs…” of those at any University of Hawaii campus. According to the bill, tuition, fees books, supplies, and transportation fall under direct costs. Furthermore, qualifying students are defined as: keeping a specified 2.5 grade point average; gaining at least 30 credits in an academic year; and meeting other caveats of the given scholarships as defined by UH.
Failure of academic performance would result in scholarship probation. During this time, one must further their academic progress. UH must also factor in “social, economic, and other factors…” If the requirements are not satisfied, the student loses the scholarship and must “[reimburse] the University of Hawaii for up to two semesters of scholarship amounts” given by the program taken.
Although HB 1594 passed with the consent of every member of the hearing last Friday, but there is still more to come. The House Finance Committee still has to review the bill, and then if faces hearings in the Senate, where Woodson urged people to testify.
Woodson said he has been “looking into the intricacies of budget proposals…it looks like there’s money for it.”