Colleges in Hawaii

Why go to College in Hawaii?


For many students, there's one major advantage to going to college in Hawaii: the environment. The warm weather, beautiful beaches, unique ecology, volcanic activity, and opportunity to surf are all major attractions to pursuing an education in the state of Hawaii.

Although the recreation and leisure of the Hawaiian landscape are powerful motivators, many of these environmental factors also have major impacts on the type of education that is available. Both in-person and online schools in Hawaii have strong academic programs and research opportunities in the fields of volcanology, marine biology, and indigenous studies, taking advantage of Hawaii's history and environment. In addition to its weather and rare academic programs, there are many other reasons why students choose to study at one of the eight main islands in America's 50th state.

Hawaii is home to about 1.4 million residents, with nearly 400,000 living in the city of Honolulu. The population is diverse and consists of many white, Asian, and multi-ethnic residents. About 10% of the Hawaiian population is Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.
Hawaii has a tropical climate with temperatures remaining mostly in the 80s, regardless of the season. However, because Hawaii is composed of several islands, the climate can vary substantially across the state. Honolulu, where many of Hawaii's universities are located, has a rainy winter but average high temperatures above 80 degrees year-round.
Number of Higher Learning Institutions
There are 43 colleges and universities in Hawaii, including the 10 campuses that make up the University of Hawaii system. Among the notable private universities in the archipelago are BYU Hawaii and Hawaiian Pacific University.
Sporting Events
Hawaii is not home to many traditional professional sports teams, although it does feature some of the best water sports in the world. Amatuer and professional surfing, swimming, and boating are found across the islands. The University of Hawaii is home to a Division I athletics department with a football team. Additionally, the Ironman triathlon championship has been held in Hawaii since 1978.
With clubs, dancing, and great food, Waikiki is the heart of Hawaiian nightlife. Just down the street from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Waikiki is a fun-filled, beach-front area with ample entertainment. However, there are many other nightlife and adventure opportunities throughout the eight islands.

What Options are Available for Colleges in Hawaii?


Studying on-campus in Hawaii, whether on the Big Island or in Maui, comes with a lot of benefits. On-campus students have access to the physical environment and climate surrounding their school, allowing for more in-depth research opportunities, especially in fields such as geology or marine biology. Additionally, on-campus students are able to participate in athletic events, experience the local culture, and take advantage of school facilities. Oahu schools, such as Hawaii Pacific University and the University of Hawaii at Manoa, are near a number of other institutions, enabling students to take exchange courses and feel a greater sense of academic community. The ideal on-campus learner is typically a younger student or graduate researcher who plans to take advantage of both the social and practical benefits of a Hawaiian college campus.

Online Programs

Online colleges in Hawaii are a great option for many students. Online schools in Hawaii are often the most cost-effective and prudent option for both Hawaiian residents living on a different island from their institution and mainland U.S. residents who want to study in Oahu without relocating to the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

An online program lets students learn remotely over the internet. Online programs typically use a combination of video, written material, live communication between peers, and multimedia teaching aids, allowing a class of disparate learners to cover the same material as a traditional in-person course. Online classes can be taught synchronously or asynchronously, where students move at their own pace with pre-recorded class material or have weekly, live meetings and lectures with an instructor; the teaching style varies depending on the specific course and program.

Online programs are especially popular with working and adult learners because they are more flexible. Students also take advantage of distance learning to attend courses at an institution that is far from their home; for example, many residents in the state of California are enrolled at programs at the University of Hawaii. Online programs deliver the same knowledge and result in the same degrees as their on-campus counterparts. Tuition is typically similar, but students at online colleges in Hawaii can save on other costs, such as housing and transportation.

Hybrid Programs

Hybrid programs incorporate aspects from both in-person and online learning. Although there are many types of hybrid programs, they all incorporate online coursework and lectures with in-class time for discussion, workshopping, and/or instruction. Some programs also use a schedule where courses are taught mostly online with a three- or four-day intensive in-person component, saving on travel costs and reducing time constraints. Others have online components throughout the week with a weekly in-person meeting.

Not every distance learner is able to enroll in a hybrid program, but hybrid options enable online students to receive many of the benefits of an on-campus education by helping them create social connections with peers and faculty and allowing them to take advantage of on-campus facilities.

Popular Degree Programs in Hawaii

Hawaii has some of the most unique ecosystems and geological features in the U.S. Many of the state's students pursue careers in science or local industries that involve the volcanic activity or rich sea life of the archipelago. Business is another popular major because the geographically-convenient location of the state lends itself to commercial opportunities with trade between the mainland U.S. and other Pacific nations. Government and military careers are also important in Hawaii and can be pursued by students through a variety of majors, including international relations, computer science, and engineering.

  • Volcanology

    There are not many places in the U.S. where students can study volcanology by taking a short trip to visit an active volcano. Students at the University Hawaii, and many other schools, can study and conduct hands-on research related to volcanic activity.

  • Marine Biology

    Studying marine biology in this tropical location allows students to observe exoctic fish, crustacians, and sea life. Conservation, fishing, and bioengineering are just some of the careers that can be pursued by students who hold a degree in marine biology.

  • Business

    Business administration is one of the most popular majors in Hawaii. Many businesses located in Hawaii have international connections, especially in Asia.

  • Civilization/Indigenous Studies

    Hawaii has a unique history among U.S. states because it is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and was home to a Kingdom prior to statehood. Students attending an on-campus or online college in Hawaii can study native Hawaiian literature, language, and/or culture.

What are the Best Online Colleges in Hawaii?

Deciding on a program or online school in Hawaii can be a difficult process. There are many factors to consider, from tuition costs to academic fit to potential career opportunities. The best way to decide is to learn as much information as possible about multiple programs and compare programs to one another. The following is list of the best online colleges in Hawaii, which may help make your decision easier. Each entry looks at many campus, academic, and practical variables that might impact your choice.


Chaminade University of Honolulu Honolulu, HI


Chaminade has fully embraced distance learning as a means to provide education to working professionals. In fact, the Office of Professional and Continuing Education offers all its undergraduate programs entirely online. The school offers degrees on a variety of topics, including business administration, criminal justice and criminology, education, English, and religious studies.

These programs boast small class sizes and 10-week course terms that offer an accelerated rate of degree completion. Online courses are delivered asynchronously, allowing students to complete coursework at their own pace. Chaminade is one of the best online colleges in Hawaii for military students, who can take advantage of reduced tuition and receive academic credits for their military service. All online students have access to a variety of support services, including free one-on-one tutoring. Chaminade is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.


University of Hawaii at Manoa Honolulu, HI


A global educational experience awaits students at UH Manoa, the flagship campus of the state college system. Distance learners have the opportunity to engage in rigorous academics and unique research opportunities thanks to the university's coveted land, sea, and space grants. UH MAnoa is one of the best online colleges in Hawaii due to its catalog of bachelor's degrees that can be completed online or via ITV.

These include an RN-to-BSN degree, a business administration program with specializations in hospitality and tourism, marketing, and accounting, as well as a public administration degree with specializations in healthcare and justice administration. There is also a BA in social sciences with specializations in early childhood education, political science, and psychology that is offered as a transfer program for students who have two years of college credit from a community college in the UH system. UH Manoa is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.


University of Hawaii at Hilo Hilo, HI


UH Hilo is one of the best online schools in Hawaii and uses video conferencing technology to offer distance learning programs to students from across the Big Island and the rest of the state. The RN-to-BSN is offered to registered nurses with courses online and clinical components completed locally.

This program is only open to nurses living on Maui, Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, or Hawaiʻi Islands. The curriculum includes courses on a variety of topics, such as transcultural care and health promotion, health assessment, community healthcare, and collaborative healthcare. Full-time students who have an associate degree in nursing from a UH system community college can complete the program in just three semesters with one required summer session. UH Hilo boasts small class sizes with an average student-to-faculty ratio of 18-to-1. UH Hilo is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

What are the Best Online Community Colleges in Hawaii?

In addition to online schools in Hawaii that offer bachelor's, graduate, and professional degrees, there are also community colleges that have online programs. Sometimes referred to as ”junior” or “two-year” colleges, community colleges are higher education institutions that typically offer associate degrees, professional licenses, and certificate programs. Some students enroll in online community colleges to earn prerequisite credits that can be to transferred to a four-year school. Alternatively, other learners pursue terminal vocational or professional certificates. Community colleges tend to be less expensive than four-year schools but still offer many of the same foundational and core classes required for liberal arts or science degrees.


Leeward Community College Pearl City, HI


Based on the island of O'ahu, Leeward Community College in Pearl City offers associate degrees and certifications in accounting, management, retail, and teaching. To keep students on track, this online community college in Hawaii creates an intimate experience through the iLearn Leeward online support center, which facilitates education through orientations, counseling, and student guides. Leeward prides itself on bringing education to students with a variety of different backgrounds.

Admission requires no SAT scores and no essays. Applicant requirements differ according to the student’s status as a transfer, incoming freshman, or military member. Students need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to receive financial aid.

How We Ranked the Schools

To determine the best programs, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school's commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the best online master's in management information systems programs. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school's ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category's ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.

Education Trends in Hawaii

Hawaii spends more per person on higher education than the average state in the U.S; Hawaii's average spending per full-time student on colleges and universities is about $1,500 higher than the national average.

Hawaii also spends about twice as much of its tax revenue on higher education than the rest of the country, allocating 10.3% of its tax revenue (compared to 5.8% in the U.S.). A higher percentage of Hawaiian residents have either an associate or bachelor's degrees than the U.S. average, although the Aloha State trails the national average slightly in its percentage of graduate degree holders.

  Hawaii United States
Source: SHEEO and U.S. Census
Postsecondary Education Spending per Full-Time Student $8,405 $6,954
Percent of Tax Revenue Allocated to Higher Education 10.3% 5.8%
Percentage of adults over 25 with associate degree 10.3% 8.1%
Percentage of adults over 25 with bachelor's degree 20.4% 18.5%
Percentage of adults over 25 with graduate degree or higher 10.5% 11.2%

Paying for College in Hawaii

Although the specific academic program, degree type, and faculty expertise are critical concerns that should be considered when deciding between traditional or online colleges in Hawaii, cost is also a very important factor for most students. The tuition, fees, and other incidental costs must be factored into the college selection process. A student's future earning potential should also be considered.

Tuition Prices

The average in-state tuition and fees for Hawaii are slightly above the national average for both two- and four-year institutions. In addition to tuition and fees, students should keep the price of housing, food, transportation, books, and other necessities in mind when calculating the expected expense of a college program.

Financial Aid

Students in all 50 states are eligible for financial aid, which can help them pay for college in a variety of ways. Students can apply for financial aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online. This application lets students know if they're eligible to receive any scholarships or grants from the federal government. Grants and scholarships, such as the Pell Grant, are awarded based on need or merit. These types of funding do not have to be repaid.

Financial aid can also come in the form of work-study programs, where the government pays students a stipend for work they do on campus. The federal government also give students guaranteed educational loans. Direct, subsidized, unsubsidized, Perkins, and all other financial aid loans can be used to pay for college but must be repaid after students leave school.

Cost of Living by Region

When you're trying to figure out how much college will cost, it's important to include both the tuition rates and the living expenses. The geographic location of a university greatly impacts the overall expense; some colleges have lower average rental prices while others have rents well above the national mean. Two of the University of Hawaii's campuses, at Hilo and Honolulu, clearly exemplify this issue; rents in Honolulu are more than double those in Hilo. However, Honolulu prices are far below mainland rent in San Francisco.

Cost for Online Programs in Hawaii

If you're enrolling in an online college in Hawaii, you have access to the same financial aid opportunities that are available for on-campus programs. Grants, scholarships, and student loans can all be applied toward online program costs.

Although the tuition and fees for online schools in Hawaii are typically comparable to on-campus programs, there are other ways distance learners can save on school. Online students do not have to worry about the same transportation costs, child care expenses, housing considerations in a crowded college city, or books that plague their on-campus peers.

Scholarships for Hawaii College Students

Kaimana Scholarship Program
$5,000; 15 scholarships of $5,000 are given to Hawaiian high school seniors who have a minimum 2.75 GPA, community service experience, and played a sport.

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Hawaii Community Foundation Scholarships
Variable amounts; more than 170 specific scholarships and grants are available for high school graduates from Hawaii or students with a commitment to the Aloha State.

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Fukunaga Scholarship Foundation
$16,00; available to students studying business in Hawaii - this award is given out over the course of four years.

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Henry and Joyce W. Sumid Scholarship
$5,000; must be a high school or college student with a minimum 3.0 GPA - available in Hawaii and other Western states.

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Can all Scholarships be Used for Online Programs?

Most scholarships can be used to pay for programs at online colleges in Hawaii. Although the eligibility rules can be difficult and complicated, aid providers allow students to use scholarships and grants on most in-person or online programs. However, distance learners should check with the scholarship provider before accepting an award because there may be some restrictions.

Employment Outlook in Hawaii

Hawaii has one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the United States. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Hawaii has an unemployment rate of just 2.6%, which is 1.7% less than the national average. Only Colorado and North Dakota had lower unemployment rates as of May 2017. The average annual wage in Hawaii is just below the U.S. annual mean wage: $49,430 in Hawaii versus a U.S. average of $49,630.

  Hawaii United States
Source: BLS and BLS
Unemployment Rate, May 2017 2.6% 4.3%
Annual Mean Wage, May 2016 $49,430 $49,630

Top Employers and Industries in Hawaii

Top Industries in Hawaii

  • Leisure and Hospitality: Most Americans visit Hawaii on vacation to enjoy the sun at one of its pristine beaches or explore its tropical climate. There is a strong hospitality economy built on tourism from the mainland U.S. and Asia.
  • Trade, Transportation, and Utilities: The trade economy in Hawaii is strong. Combined with transportation and utilities, this field represents one of the biggest sectors in the state.
  • Government: The Hawaiian state government is headquartered in Honolulu, but there are numerous state and federal government offices throughout the island. Hawaii is also home to a number of military bases and facilities.

Top Employers in Hawaii

State Exchange Programs for Hawaii College Students

A state-to-state exchange program at a U.S. college or university typically means that a student can take classes at a facility in a different state while still paying a reduced or in-state tuition rate. It does not require students to move to another school or exchange places with another student, which is typically the case for international exchange programs. Instead, it simply allows students living in participating states to take courses at a reduced rate at another participating school. These programs are designed for students who live in states with limited educational opportunities.

Western Undergraduate Exchange

Hawaiian and other Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) state residents can apply to the WUE program, which allows students to pay 150% of the in-state tuition rate at a participating school. A Hawaiian student at an online two- or four-year public school can participate at a mainland school or vice versa.

Eligible States: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, and the U.S. Pacific Territories and Freely Associated States.

National Student Exchange

With this program, Hawaiian students can pay their own in-state tuition rates to take courses or complete a program through one of 200 participating institutions across the U.S. The University of Hawaii at Manoa is an NSE member school.

Eligible States: Nearly 200 colleges and universities throughout the United States, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Accreditation for Colleges in Hawaii

When looking at schools, students should check to see whether or not an institution is accredited. A school becomes accredited after it has been judged by peer institutions and accrediting agencies; these ensure that a school meets certain criteria and is fit to educate its students and award degrees. A degree from an accredited school is viewed by other institutions and employers as legitimate.

Schools can be accredited either regionally or nationally. Of the two, regional accreditation is generally considered more prestigious. Most quality schools, whether they be not-for-profit, public, private, in-person, and/or online, are regionally accredited. Schools can be regionally accredited by one of six regional agencies in the U.S. These agencies are run by colleges and universities and are recognized as legitimate by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the Department of Education. National accreditation is usually reserved for for-profit, religious, and/or vocational colleges. Hawaii schools are regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

There are also many programs that are accredited separately from their main school. A law or medical program may be accredited by a relevant professional organization, such as the American Bar Association or the American Medical Association, indicating expertise in that specific field.

Resources for Students in Hawaii

  • Choose Wisely: The Hawaii Post-Secondary Education Authorization Program provides a guide to help students decide which college or university is best-suited for their needs. The site also alerts students to diploma mills and scams.
  • Department of Education: The State Department of Education helps students of all ages achieve their goal of graduating from college. Hawaii's 55 by 25 program is designed to encourage more local high schoolers to graduate from college.
  • UH Planning Resources: The University of Hawaii features Gear Up planning resources for students and parents preparing for college. This site includes everything from information about grants to SAT test tutorials.
  • College and Career Readiness: The state's website features an entire section on college and career readiness for its residents. Prospective students can learn about dual high school credit programs, collegiate expectations, and more.
  • Scholarship Finder: Students can use the Hawaii scholarship finder to discover new ways to help pay for school.