Best Community Colleges in Hawaii

Hawaii offers natural beauty and many excellent community colleges. Learn more about the benefits of studying in the Aloha State.
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Updated on June 28, 2023
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More than 10 million people visited Hawaii in 2019. And many more traveled to the Aloha State in order to attend college. The University of Hawaii Community Colleges includes seven campuses and other educational centers across the state's islands. Hawaii is also home to some of the country's top online schools.

Like community colleges in most states, two-year institutions in Hawaii are generally less expensive to attend than four-year universities. Hawaii participates in programs and partnerships like the State Authorization and Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) to offer students discounted tuition online and in person. The Hawaii Promise Program provides over $2.5 million in free tuition to learners each year.

The relative affordability of Hawaii's community colleges and the state's unique cultural and geographical offerings make it a great place to study.

Why Study in Hawaii?

Educational Opportunities

The state's main community colleges belong to a branch of the University of Hawaii system. Hawaii is home to more than half a dozen community colleges across the islands, all of them providing distance and in-person learning. The college system prides itself on producing well-trained job candidates ready to enter the workforce and boost the local economy. While Hawaii is an island state, it retains many educational partnerships with organizations and institutions on the mainland and in the South Pacific.


Hawaii's economy largely depends on tourism, which is why the COVID-19 pandemic hit the state so hard. A large portion of the state's workforce is in tourism, including retail staff, hotel managers, and tour guides. Hawaii ranks as the top unionized state in the U.S. with one in four workers belonging to a union. Many of these workers are in trades, such as constructor and dock workers.

Cost of Living

Hawaii has a high cost of living. The state's cost of living index is 185, almost twice the national average of 100. Housing costs in Hawaii are roughly three times the national average. The state's natural beauty attracts many visitors and retirees, which has driven up living costs. Furthermore, as an island, the state must import many resources, including food, making day-to-day expenses more costly.

Cultural and Community Offerings

Hawaii has a deep history and diverse culture. Visitors to the Aloha State can take advantage of Hawaii's outdoor attractions like snorkeling, hiking, fishing, and surfing. Students, residents, and tourists alike can visit the islands' volcanoes. There are also opportunities to learn about native Hawaiin rituals and culture. The state is also home to museums, theaters, and other arts attractions.


Hawaii has a tropical climate and only two "real" seasons: summer and winter. Summer lasts from May to October, and winter lasts from November to April. The average temperature during the summer is 85 degrees during the day and 78 at night. The islands are home to diverse micro-environments, including rainforests, alpine regions, and beaches. Most rainfall occurs in the mountains and on the northeastern side of the islands. Breezy, sunny conditions are most common.

Top Degree Programs in Hawaii

Featured Online Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Hawaii Employment Outlook

Many industries in Hawaii are growing quickly. Government, accommodations and food services, healthcare and social assistance, retail trade, and construction rank as the top in-demand industries. Students can study at one of Hawaii's seven community colleges to access these growing fields.

While the cost of living in Hawaii is high compared to most other states, wages in the state reflect the higher-than-average expenses of living in the island state.

5 In-Demand Hawaii Jobs

Restaurant Worker

  • Annual Average Salary in Hawaii (May 2020): $40,790
  • Job Outlook in the U.S. (2020-2030): 17%

Hawaii has the second most concentrated food preparation and service industry in the U.S. Full-service restaurants are the largest employers in the job sector. Restaurant workers may include servers, bartenders, cooks, and hosts. An associate degree in a travel- or tourism-related field can enable a worker to start a career in this industry.

Nursing Assistants

  • Annual Average Salary in Hawaii (May 2020): $38,650
  • Job Outlook in the U.S. (2020-2030): 8%

The demand for healthcare workers has skyrocketed nationwide with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Hawaii is no exception. Hawaii is in need of home health aides and assisted living staff. These workers help feed, bathe, and give medication to patients, and make sure they get to necessary medical appointments.

Retail Worker

  • Annual Average Salary in Hawaii (May 2020): $35,280
  • Job Outlook in the U.S. (2020-2030): -1%

Hawaii is always in need of retail workers given the state's booming tourism industry. Retail sales workers help customers find products and pay for their items. Jobs include cashier, salesperson, and stocker. Retail workers with associate degrees may be able to work their way up to management roles.

Landscaping Worker

  • Annual Average Salary in Hawaii (May 2020): $39,250
  • Job Outlook in the U.S. (2020-2030): 8%

While Hawaii has miles of natural beauty, landscaping is necessary around resorts, hotels, and neighborhoods. Landscapers often mow lawns and trim trees, as well as perform other gardening tasks. Professionals with associate degrees from Hawaii's community colleges may be able to advance to positions like landscaping supervisor, which can pay as much as $20,000 more.

Construction Worker

  • Annual Average Salary in Hawaii (May 2020): $62,690
  • Job Outlook in the U.S. (2020-2030): 7%

Construction workers may be employed by large companies or work as contractors. These professionals can work on private, small-scale projects, such as home renovations. They may also work for the state or city government on public infrastructure projects, such as building roads, bridges, and public buildings.

Popular Career Paths in Hawaii

Best Accredited Community Colleges in Hawaii

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Best Community Colleges in Hawaii

  1. Leeward Community College

    Pearl City, HI



    Part of the University of Hawai'i System, Leeward CC boasts 20 programs of study, including liberal arts, automotive technology, and culinary arts. Most fields offer both an associate degree and certificate program. Certificate programs provide part-time tracks that students can complete in just two years. Full-time students earning an associate degree on campus can also graduate in two years.

    Leeward CC features an online AA degree in liberal arts that transfers to the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. The college also boasts over two dozen online certificates in subjects such as business essentials, teaching, and travel industry management. Online programs at this community college in Hawaii are delivered through accelerated five-week courses. Unlike on-campus associate programs, the online AA requires 2.5 years.

    Leeward CC -- like all community colleges in this ranking -- accepts students who hold a GED certificate. The University of Hawai'i System awards multiple scholarships each year to eligible students. Incoming degree-seekers should submit the UH System Common Scholarship Application.

  2. Kapiolani Community College

    Honolulu, HI



    Situated in eastern Honolulu, KCC educates nearly 7,000 students on campus and online. Many of the college's academic programs align with the state's largest employment sectors, including tourism, education, and nursing. Along with associate degrees, the university offers nine non-credit certificate programs in fields such as massage therapy, phlebotomy, and surgical technology.

    Students can select from more than 200 online courses each semester. Learners earning a degree entirely online or in a hybrid format at this Hawaii community college benefit from online tutoring, testing, and technology resources. Alumni can use the college's Employment Prep Center to receive resume critiques and practice interviewing skills. Finally, high school students in the Honolulu area can participate in the college's dual-credit program.

    Prospective students can apply for the fall or spring semester, and KCC exempts Hawaii residents and active-duty military personnel from paying an admission fee. Incoming degree-seekers take COMPASS placement tests to determine their initial English and math courses. Finally, students may qualify for one of four institutional scholarships.

  3. Kauai Community College

    Lihue, HI



    With 18 programs of study, Kaua'i CC prepares students for a variety of careers, including medical assistants, nurses, and beekeepers. This community college in Hawaii also boasts a strong relationship with the local community. For example, the school hosts at least two public events each month that include lectures and speakers.

    Distance learning at Kaua'i CC may appeal to degree-seekers who live in rural Hawaii, want to earn a degree in a hybrid format, or have other responsibilities such as a full-time job or family. Kaua'i CC online students can take any online course offered by the University of Hawai'i System -- a boon for learners who plan to transfer to a bachelor's completion program.

    Advisors at the Veterans' Support Centers work with veterans one-on-one to ensure that relevant military training can count toward certificate or degree requirements. Like all public colleges in Hawaii, Kaua'i CC offers exclusive scholarship and grant opportunities for Native Hawaiians. Also, Hawaii residents ages 60 and older do not pay tuition.

  4. Hawaii Community College

    Hilo, HI



    With campuses in Hilo and Kailua Kona, Hawai'i CC holds a special relationship with the University of Hawai'i at Hilo; community college students can access academic, library, and career services offered by the larger four-year university. The college's 28 programs of study include agriculture, business technology, and tropical forest ecosystem and agroforestry management. Students can pursue certificates of competence and achievement. Certificate of achievement programs accept students with some career experience.

    Although Hawai'i CC does not offer online programs itself, degree-seekers at the school can still take online courses through the Hawai'i Community College System. Distance education learners can access online tutoring, proctoring, and IT services.

    Like all community colleges in Hawaii, in-state students save approximately 66% on tuition compared to out-of-state students. However, students pay a higher tuition rate if they take courses during the summer term. Incoming degree-seekers should apply for financial aid by the March 1 deadline.

  5. Honolulu Community College

    Honolulu, HI



    At Honolulu CC, degree-seekers and certificate-seekers can select from more than two dozen programs of study. The college's five liberal arts associate programs -- Hawaiian studies, natural sciences, Asian studies, communication, and psychology -- transfer to four-year public schools in Hawaii.

    Honolulu CC boasts affordable online programs where in-state students pay a fraction of the tuition that four-year public universities charge. All prospective online learners take a readiness assessment before enrolling. This community college in Hawaii delivers courses through five-week sessions.

    Honolulu CC accepts new students in the fall, spring, and summer semesters. Incoming degree-seekers can submit standardized test scores to fulfill Honolulu CC's placement testing requirements. Learners interested in a college-funded scholarship should submit all materials by the March 9 deadline.

Best Online Colleges in Hawaii

Frequently Asked Questions About Community Colleges in Hawaii

Are community colleges worth it?

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Attending a community college can be a cost-saving choice. Those who choose to attend community college can earn credits toward a bachelor's degree or prepare to enter the workforce directly after graduation. Community college tuition is often much less expensive than the costs at a four-year college or university. The majority of community college credits easily transfer toward earning a degree at another institution.

Does Hawaii have a community college?

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The small state is home to seven community colleges in the University of Hawaii system. The colleges all charge a flat-rate tuition and offer associate degree programs as well as nondegree certificate courses of study. Those interested in learning a trade can study in fields like welding, HVAC-R, and plumbing. Others may choose to earn a two-year associate degree and then transfer to a four-year university to earn a bachelor's.

Is community college free in Hawaii?

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The Hawaii Promise Program offers financial help, including free tuition, for qualifying community college students who demonstrate need. The program kicked off in 2017 and served 1,500 students that year; the average award was $1,200. The $2.5 million program is funded by the state of Hawaii. Every student who meets the criteria is awarded money.

How many community colleges are there in Hawaii?

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There are 7 colleges in the University of Hawaii Community College system. In addition, Hawaii Medical College offers two-year degrees in certain health-focused areas. The colleges are spread out across the Hawaiian islands, and all offer online learning options.

What is the cheapest college in Hawaii?

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The community colleges in Hawaii all charge the same rates. In-state students pay $131 per credit, and out-of-state students pay $345 per credit. However, students may also need to pay for room and board, transportation, books, and other necessary fees. Hawaii Medical College charges $320 per credit. Students can seek additional financial aid, such as scholarships and loans. Kapi'olani Community College offers Pacific Islander students a discounted tuition rate.

How much does Honolulu Community College cost?

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Honolulu Community College charges students the same base rate as the other community colleges in the University of Hawaii system. In-state students pay $131 per credit, and out-of-state students pay $345 per credit. Learners must pay additional fees for student activities, student media, and student government. The college offers a payment plan option for students who need additional time to cover the expenses.

Feature Image: Photography by Jesse Warren / Moment / Getty Images is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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