Best Colleges & Universities in Hawaii

best_colleges_universities_in_hawaiiThe Hawaiian Islands are known for their world-class surfing, scuba diving, hiking, beaches, and resorts. Hawaii’s mountainous volcanoes, vast treasure troves of wildlife, and breathtaking beach fronts are the perfect setting for any student to settle into their college routine. In Hawaii, the pressures of college can quickly melt away. Just step outside your front door and take in all the paradise that surrounds you.

The state boasts 15 colleges and universities in total, several of which can be found in Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital city. The University of Hawaii itself boasts ten campuses, but Brigham Young University-Hawaii claims the best value of any college in the state. Because of its tropical location, some of Hawaii’s colleges and universities offer hands-on courses in Marine Biology that cannot be studied the same way anywhere else.

Hawaii is one of sixteen states that participates in the Western Undergraduate Exchange Program. The goal of this program is to allow enrolled out-of-state students in the program to pay no more than 150% of the in-state tuition rate.

Hawaii is committed to making sure people from all over the world can come and enjoy the opportunities Hawaii universities have to offer, so if you’re looking for a blend of diverse cultures, a beautiful paradise, and a top-of-the-line education, come to Hawaii!

Colleges in Hawaii Fast Facts

Fall enrollment (2017) = 64,125
Degrees awarded in Hawaii(2016) = 15,698
Median in-state public tuition (2016) = $7,200
Median out-of-state tuition (2016) = $20,160
Largest schools by the number of degrees awarded = 1. University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2. Kapiolani Community College, 3. Hawaii Pacific University


EDsmart assesses colleges in Hawaii based on data that covers four main areas:

  • Cost (average net price)
  • Academic quality (graduation rate)
  • Student satisfaction (retention rate)
  • Salary After Attending (the median earnings of former students who received federal financial aid, at 10 years after entering the school)

All data was gathered from the U.S. Dept of Education websites College Scorecard and College Navigator.

This ranking aims to help students assess the affordability and value of top colleges in Hawaii so they can make informed decisions about which college to attend.

Best Colleges in Hawaii

1. University of Hawaii at Manoa

Score: 100

Average Net Price: $15,307
Retention Rate: 78%
Graduation Rate: 59%
Salary After Attending: $45,800

Founded in 1907 on the small island of Oahu, the University of Hawaii at Manoa is just a quick drive from downtown Honolulu. As the flagship campus of the University of Hawaii, the Manoa campus offers several unique Asian and Pacific culture study programs. It is rated at #80 among the Best Public Universities by U.S. News in 2019 and #157 in National Universities. Fully committed to fostering a culturally diverse and enriching college experience, the Manoa campus is well-equipped to offer a variety of both undergraduate and graduate degrees, such as marine oceanography from the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, or tropical medicine from the John A. Burns School of Medicine. UOH-M athletic teams also compete in the NCAA Big West Conference every year, making student and campus life that much more exciting.

With an average attendance of more than 12,800 students, the academic year is structured by semester with in-state fees and tuition averaging on $11,970 (2019). Manoa campus is saturated with the aloha spirit, so U of H students are free to celebrate that ancient energy, which honors their individuality while simultaneously strengthening them as one collective family.

2. University of Hawaii-West Oahu

Score: 99.2

Average Net Price: $9,216
Retention Rate: 68%
Graduation Rate: 28%
Salary After Attending: $38,600

Located in Oahu’s “second city” of Kapolei, just 30 minutes west of Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, sits The University of Hawaii–West Oahu campus. Established in 1976, UOH-WO prides itself on being “puʻuhonua,” where, similar to the concept of a village raising a child, every student is guided, mentored, and feels safe while learning. In the Hawaiian tradition, students at UH-WO are a part of what sustains the community and the island. The wide variety of course offerings at UOH-WO reflects the unique culture of indigenous Hawaii.

Students can earn one of 6 bachelor’s degrees with 35 different concentrations. In-state tuition and fees for the 2019-2020 academic year will average $7,512.00 for twelve credit hour students. With a total undergraduate population of just over 3,000, almost half of the classes host less than 20 students, with the other half averaging less than 50. Most students live off-campus, so UOH-WO is considered a suburban campus. The University of Hawaii-West Oahu ranked #21 on the list of Best Colleges in Regional Colleges West for 2019.

3. Brigham Young University-Hawaii

Score: 98.8

Average Net Price: $11,428
Retention Rate: 63%
Graduation Rate: 55%
Salary After Attending: $42,200

Operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the mission of BYU-Hawaii is to integrate both a spiritual and secular education and foster life-long learning. The university has an average enrollment of 2,500 students and an undergraduate campus, which is located on Oahu island. The main campus sits approximately 35 miles north of Honolulu, halfway between the allure of the mountains and the draw of the beaches, which happen to be within walking distance of campus. With a diverse student population representing over 70 countries, BYU-H is the place to find their place and direction. The institution is funded by the LDS Church Educational System, based in Provo, Utah. Tuition and fees are subsidized by both LDS and Non-LDS membership donations, lowering LDS-student cost about $7,400 for a three-semester academic year.

All students are expected to be actively engaged in their learning and regularly reflect on their experiences. A few popular majors are Arts and Humanities, Math and Science, and Professional certification. Both minors and professional certifications are awarded at BYU-Hawaii, and all traditional undergraduate degrees, such as business and education, are offered along with unique majors like Hawaiian language study. Students are encouraged to create their degree plans and become “holokai,” which translates to “seafarer” – an appropriate name for any BYU-Hawaii student on their journey to success.

4. Chaminade University of Honolulu

Score: 98.6

Average Net Price: $20,666
Retention Rate: 76%
Graduation Rate: 56%
Salary After Attending: $38,400

Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Chaminade University of Honolulu was founded in 1955 as a private, Catholic college in the Marianist tradition. Located in the Kaimuki neighborhood of Honolulu, just around the corner from Waikiki Beach, Chaminade students get to view both Diamond Head and the Pacific Ocean while attending a modern, urban campus. Ranked #44 among the Best Colleges in Regional Universities West for 2019, according to US News, Chaminade University has an average enrollment of around 1,200 students. Average class sizes of only 19 and the 11 to 1 student-to-professor ratio both allow for dynamic campus energy. Ranked #49 on the list of Best Value Schools, Chaminade tuition and fees for 2018-2019 averaged at $25,370. Most students receive financial aid and scholarships, keeping in custom with the school’s creed; learning should not be impeded by the inability to pay.

Chaminade is focused on promoting the Marianist values of peace, justice, and dignity for all through service-learning. Students can earn bachelor’s degrees in many fields, such as accounting, forensic science, or religious studies, and nine graduate degrees are offered, including Education, Criminal Justice, and Pastoral Studies. Chaminade promotes a variety of community projects geared toward enhancing community awareness and involvement.

5. Hawaii Pacific University

Score: 98.4

Average Net Price: $28,836
Retention Rate: 65%
Graduation Rate: 43%
Salary After Attending: $49,900

Established in downtown Honolulu in 1965, Hawaii Pacific University is a private, urban institution that offers over 30 undergraduate degrees. Its renowned math, science, arts, and humanities programs make it one of the top colleges on the islands. Six graduate degrees are available, including Master of Education, MBA, and Master of Social Work. There is one doctorate program in nursing, but a wide range of online course options add to the school’s versatility, and students can choose between undergraduate, graduate, and associate degrees in several other fields.

As it is primarily a liberal arts college, HPU emphasizes a diversified curriculum reflective of the student population. The school’s average enrollment is only about 2,400, making this a smaller but overall more personalized college experience. The university is ranked at #69 among Best Colleges in the Regional Universities West for 2019, according to US News. Niche rated the school at “B-,” with tuition and fees average at $28,700 per year for in-state students. Hawaii Pacific sits at #3 on the list of Best Value Colleges in Hawaii.

6. University of Hawaii at Hilo

Score: 98.2

Average Net Price: $13,709
Retention Rate: 70%
Graduation Rate: 38%
Salary After Attending: $37,900

The University of Hawaii-Hilo was founded in 1947 as a liberal arts college. Publicly funded and located on the island of Hawaii, about 200 miles from the state’s capital, it is a relatively rural university. Though it primarily offers undergraduate degrees, UH-Hilo also has graduate programs in Education, Teaching, and Tropical Conservation Biology. Doctorate programs include Nursing, Pharmacy, and Hawaiian Language Revitalization.

With a student population of just 2,300, the university is a tight-knit community but prides itself on its small class sizes and personalized curriculum. For residential students, the average cost of tuition and fees is approximately $27,800. Niche ranks UH-Hilo at #4 among the Best Colleges in Hawaii, with an overall rating of “B”. The university is recognized by The Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges as well. A world-class observatory sits at the top of Mount Maunakea, and the campus is just around the corner from the Hilo Forest Reserve. The University of Hawaii-Hilo uses the island’s diverse ecosystem as a living, hands-on laboratory for students, offering one-of-a-kind learning experiences and cultivating lifelong adventures.

7. Kauai Community College

Score: 98

Average Net Price: $9,553
Retention Rate: 66%
Graduation Rate: 17%
Salary After Attending: $39,000

Kauai Community College, a close affiliate of the University of Hawaii system, offers 34 vocational and technical degrees and certificates in a variety of career fields. Programs range anywhere from accounting to carpentry, and the small class sizes and affordable tuition make Kauai one of the best options in Hawaii for direct career training. Kauai is also officially recognized by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

The 2019/2020 tuition program for in-state students is $131 per credit, with a flat $54 fee charge. 78-percent of students attend part-time and work toward certifications or completing associate credits that transfer easily to four-year institutions. Kauai Community College was has been providing more affordable education to striving students since 1964.

8. Leeward Community College

Score: 97.4

Average Net Price: $4,586
Retention Rate: 64%
Graduation Rate: 18%
Salary After Attending: $33,200

Opened in 1968 as a direct affiliate of the University of Hawaii, Leeward Community College (LCC) is a public institution located in Pearl City, Hawaii, just half an hour from Honolulu. Certified by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, LCC’s mission is to serve the community by providing quality, affordable education. The school offers associate degrees in Automotive Technology, Teacher Education, TV Production, and much more. Additionally, Leeward provides professional assistance to its freshmen students as they choose their career paths.

Fall 2019 tuition for resident students was $131 per credit hour, plus the additional flat rate fees of $35. Leeward’s acceptance rate is 100%, with an average enrollment of around 2,800, making it one of the best colleges in Hawaii in terms of accessibility. The college earned an overall grade of “B,” according to A typical Leeward graduate’s average salary starts at $25,700. The school also runs the Children’s Center, which serves as a preschool and daycare facility for the kids of Leeward’s students, staff, and faculty. This extra support makes life infinitely easier for aspiring parents to actively pursue their goals.

9. Kapiolani Community College

Score: 97.4

Average Net Price: $6,190
Retention Rate: 62%
Graduation Rate: 19%
Salary After Attending: $37,200

Founded in 1946 at the base of the towering Diamond Head volcano, Kapiolani Community College’s original goal was to provide education in the foodservice industry exclusively. As time went on, programs in nursing, business education, and dental assisting were added to the school’s course list. Today, Kapiolani Community College is a small, public institution that offers a variety of programs such as Culinary Arts, Liberal Arts, and Hospitality and Tourism Management. With an acceptance rate of 100%, average enrollment sits at approximately 2,600 students in total. The community college operates in close affiliation with the University of Hawaii, with long-term ambitions to revitalize 21st-century technical education. Resident students can expect to pay tuition, fees, and board of approximately $12,200 for the Fall 2019/Spring 2020 academic year. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges recognizes Kapiolani for its widely-acclaimed programs. Kapiolani graduates earn a yearly salary of $30,000 on average.

Named in honor of Queen Julia Kapi’olani, the first Hawaiian queen to visit the United States, KCC strives to maintain a high standard of service to community and country. Through practicing values of honesty, service, and responsibility, KCC further honors her legacy, providing quality education to its students in the process.

10. University of Phoenix-Hawaii

Score: 97

Average Net Price: $14,752
Retention Rate: 56%
Graduation Rate: 25%
Salary After Attending: $47,100

Working in partnership with the University of Phoenix itself, the University of Phoenix-Hawaii can be found directly in the heart of Honolulu. Operating as a for-profit institution, UP-Hawaii offers bachelor’s degrees in Business, Education, Computer Technology, and Healthcare. Master’s programs include Education, Business, and Nursing with doctorate level programs in the same fields. UP-Hawaii offers tuition lock for Fall 2019 undergrad students at $398 per credit hour ($1,194 per course) for the entirety of their degree program. UP-Hawaii’s faculty has real-life experience, and most instructors have over 20 years of on-the-job experience, bringing real-world problem-solving skills directly to the classroom.

UP-Hawaii’s curriculum is built to benefit working students who have multiple demands on their time and for whom a traditional post-secondary education schedule is unrealistic. Most students are over the age of 25 and are either looking to increase their employability or change careers. The Higher Learning Commission has officially recognized UP-Hawaii since 1978 for its more personalized, interactive administration methods. Because the university’s undergraduate class is composed of only 661 students in total, on-the-spot tutoring, small class sizes, and online study sessions are all readily accessible.

11. Honolulu Community College

Score: 95.8

Average Net Price: $7,846
Retention Rate: 55%
Graduation Rate: 17%
Salary After Attending: $35,700

Located in the heart of the state capital, Honolulu Community College is a 2-year institution that was established initially as a technical school in 1920. The University of Hawaii adopted HCC into its subsidiary system in 1964. Today, the school offers Liberal Arts Associate degrees that transfer directly to the University of Hawaii. Student enrollment sits at about 1,200 undergraduates in total. At its auxiliary campus, located just around the corner from Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, both Aeronautical Maintenance and Commercial Aviation programs are offered. The school’s Marine Education and Training Center can be found among the scenery of Sand Island. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges recognizes HCC for its renowned programs, and alumni earn an average salary of $28,000 yearly. Tuition and fees are comparable to those of other Hawaii community colleges, with resident tuition set at only $131 per credit hour and a flat fee rate of $15 per semester.

Honolulu Community College offers unique opportunities through its Pearl Harbor Apprenticeship Program, which combines classroom instruction with paid, cooperative work experience at the shipyard. All credit earned through this program contributes to an associate’s degree in Applied Science. HCC also offers a limited Flex AA program to encourage working adults to return to school and finish their degrees. This institution strives to broaden students’ knowledge and deepen their understanding to foster lifelong learning.

12. Hawaii Community College

Score: 95.4

Average Net Price: $11,580
Retention Rate: 61%
Graduation Rate: 21%
Salary After Attending: $26,600

Located in the city of Hilo, Hawaii Community College was initially known as the Hawaii Vocational School in 1941. The two-year, public institution was renamed Hawaii Community College when it became a University of Hawaii subsidiary in 1970. HCC works in partnership with community leaders to design efficacious and sustainable curricula that enable students to serve the island community effectively. Recognized by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Hawaii Community College’s four integrated principles are community, technology, Hawaiian culture, and environmentalism. With a student population of almost 1,200 undergraduates, popular courses include Liberal Arts, Fire Science and Culinary Arts degrees. Tuition is $131 per credit hour for resident students, with an additional flat fee of $30 per semester.

As part of the mission at HCC, tropical forestry and agroforestry programs use the island as a laboratory for a hands-on, real-world learning experience. According to Niche ratings, alumni can expect to earn $26,000 on average, and 74% of graduates are employed in their field just two years post-graduation. Students were very impressed with Hawaii Community College’s professionalism and appreciated the presence of Hawaiian culture in day-to-day campus life.

13. Windward Community College

Score: 94.8

Average Net Price: $10,283
Retention Rate: 59%
Graduation Rate: 15%
Salary After Attending: $29,600

Located at the base of the Oahu mountains of Ko’olau, Windward Community College is a rural campus that specializes in the creative arts, Hawaiian culture studies, and environmental sciences. With a 100% acceptance rate and approximately 2,500 undergraduate students, the student-to-faculty ratio is only 18 to 1, so instructors are both responsive to student feedback and highly qualified in their fields. Tuition is $131 per credit hour with flat rate semester fees of $25. Graduates can expect to earn upwards of $29,000, and Niche rankings indicate that 80% of alumni are employed in their fields just two years after graduation. Like all other University of Hawaii community college subsidiaries, Windward is also recognized by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. The school strives to maintain indigenous Hawaiian culture and lifestyle, offering Hawaiian music studies, sustainable agriculture, and veterinary assisting degrees at the associate level. Courses such as orchid culture, Polynesian surf culture, and the Hawaii Fishpond Lab are specifically designed to preserve Hawaiian customs and values. The Aloha spirit is ever-present in Windward’s campus and community.

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