Best Colleges & Universities in Hawaii

best_colleges_universities_in_hawaiiThe Hawaiian Islands aren’t only for world-class surfing, scuba diving, hiking, beaches, and resorts. Hawaii’s volcanos, wild areas, and breathtakingly beautiful beaches are the perfect surroundings for finding a relaxing place to get into the rigors of college. In Hawaii, the stress of college can be easily melted away by just stepping outside your front door and taking a look at the paradise that surrounds you.

The state boasts 15 colleges and universities, several of which are located in the capital city of Honolulu. The University of Hawaii itself boasts 10 campuses. Brigham Young University Hawaii claims the biggest bang for your buck. Because of its tropical location, some of Hawaii’s colleges and universities are able to offer courses, such as Marine Biology, presented in ways that can’t be studied the same way anywhere else.

Hawaii is one of 16 states that participates in the Western Undergraduate Exchange Program. The goal of this program is to allow enrolled out-of-state students taking part in the program to pay no more than 150% of the in-state tuition rate.
That proves Hawaii is committed to making sure people from many places can enjoy the opportunities there. So, look to Hawaii for a gathering of many cultures, a fun excursion into its beautiful paradise, and a top of the line education.

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, the University of Hawaii at Manoa is located on the island of Oahu near downtown Honolulu. As the flagship campus of the University of Hawaii, the Manoa campus offers unique opportunities to study Asian and Pacific culture. It is rated #80 among the best public universities as ranked by U.S. News, 2019 and #157 in national universities. Committed to fostering a culturally diverse experience, the Manoa campus of the University of Hawaii is well positioned to offer a variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees such as marine oceanography from the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, and tropical medicine from the John A. Burns School of Medicine.

With an average attendance of more than 12,800, the academic year is structured by semester with in-state fees and tuition averaging $11,970 (2019). The aloha spirit prevails on the Manoa campus, celebrating that which brings us together while honoring individuality. Most athletic teams at UOH-M compete in the NCAA Big West Conference.

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 the city of Kapolei, The University of Hawaii–West Oahu lies about 30 minutes west of the Honolulu airport. Established in 1976, UOH-WO prides itself on being a “puʻuhonua”, where, akin to a village raising a child, a student is guided, mentored and feels safe while learning. In the Hawaiian tradition, students at UH-WO are expected to be part of what sustains the community and the island. The wide variety of course offerings reflect the unique culture of indigenous Hawaii.

Students can earn one of 6 bachelor’s degrees with 35 concentrations. A very affordable option, in-state tuition and fees for the 2019-2020 academic year will average $7,512.00 for 12 credit hours. With a total student population just over 3,000, the campus ranked 21 of Best Colleges in Regional Colleges West for 2019. Almost half the classes have less than 20 students, with the other half averaging less than 50 students. Considered a suburban campus, most students live off campus.

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 spiritual and secular education to foster life-long learning. An undergraduate campus, BYU-Hawaii has an average enrollment of 2,500 students. The campus is located on Oahu approximately 35 miles north of Honolulu between verdant mountains and inviting beaches. With a diverse student population representing over 70 countries, BYU-H is administered by the LDS Church Educational System based in Provo, Utah.

All students are expected to be prepared for class, actively engage in learning and regularly reflect on their experiences. Students are encouraged to create their own degree plans, or “holokai”, majoring in either Arts and Humanities, Math and Science or Professional certification. Minors and/or professional certifications are awarded in the two other areas. All traditional undergraduate degrees, such as business and education, are offered along with unique majors such as Hawaiian language study. Tuition and fees are broken down by LDS and Non-LDS membership, with LDS student costs at about $7,400.00 for a three-semester academic year.

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 was founded in 1955 as a private, Catholic college in the Marianist tradition. Located in the Kaimuki neighborhood of Honolulu near Waikiki Beach, students can view Diamond Head and the Pacific Ocean while on an urban campus. Ranked 44 among the Best Colleges in Regional Universities West for 2019, according to US News, Chaminade University has an average enrollment just below 1,200 students. An average class size of 19 and the professor to student ratio at 11:1 allows for a very dynamic student engagement. Also ranked 49 among Best Value Schools, tuition and fees for 2018-2019 averaged $25,370.00. Most students receive financial aid and scholarships in line with the school’s mission that learning should not be impeded by inability to pay.

The classroom experience at 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 concentrations including accounting, forensic science and religious studies. Nine graduate degrees are offered including Education, Criminal Justice and Pastoral Studies. Faculty lead students through a variety of community projects geared to enhance 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

Located in Downtown Honolulu, HPU is a private, urban university. HPU offers over 30 undergraduate degrees with concentrations in math, science and the arts and humanities, making it one of the colleges in HI. Six graduate degrees are offered including Master of Education, MBA and Master of Social Work. There is one doctorate program in nursing. Many online programs add to the school’s versatility and students can choose between undergraduate, graduate and associate degrees in a wide range of subjects.

Primarily a liberal arts college there is an emphasis on a diversified curriculum reflective of the student population. Founded in 1965, HPU is ranked 69 among Best Colleges in the Regional Universities West for 2019, according to US News. Niche rated at B-, tuition and fees average at $28,700 per year for a resident student. Rated #3 in the Best Value Colleges in Hawaii, the average enrollment is about 2,400 making this a smaller college.

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

Primarily a liberal arts college, UOH-Hilo was founded in 1947 and prides itself on small classes. Publicly funded and located on the island of Hawaii about 200 miles, by air, from Honolulu, it is a rural university. Offering primarily undergraduate degrees, UOH-H does have graduate programs in Education, Teaching and Tropical Conservation Biology. Doctorate programs include Nursing, Pharmacy and Hawaiian Language Revitalization.

At the top of Maunakea lies a world-class observatory giving unique opportunities to study at a living laboratory. Rated overall as a B by Niche, UOH-Hilo is small with a student population averaging a little over 2,300. Average tuition and fees for resident students are $27,800. Niche ranks UOH-Hilo as #4 among the Best Colleges in Hawaii. With accreditation by the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the school focuses on using the island’s diverse ecosystem as a living, hands-on laboratory offering one-of-a-kind learning experiences.

7. Kauai Community College

Score: 98

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

Affiliated with the University of Hawaii system, Kauai Community College offers 34 vocational and technical degree and certificates in a variety of career options from accounting to carpentry and nursing. Small class size and affordable tuition make Kauai one of the best schools in Hawaii for direct career training. Accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, the campus is located on the island of Kauai.

The 2019/2020 tuition schedule for resident students is $131.00/credit with a flat $54.00 fee charge. Most students attend part-time (78.1%) and work toward certifications or completing associate degrees that then transfer to four-year colleges. Established in 1964, the community college system was established in Hawaii to provide a more affordable option for students wanting a more direct path to professional certifications.

8. Leeward Community College

Score: 97.4

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

A public community college opened in 1968 and part of the University of Hawaii family, Leeward Community College is in Pearl City, Hawaii, near Honolulu. Accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Leeward CC is dedicated to serving the community through quality, affordable education open to everyone. Offering Associate degrees in Automotive Technology, Teacher Education, TV Production and much more, Leeward CC has opportunities for the beginning freshman and the non-traditional student looking to change careers.

Rated B by Niche, Leeward is a small college with an average student enrollment around 2800. Tuition in Fall 2019 for resident students will run $131.00/credit hour plus flat rate fees of $35.00. The acceptance rate for students is 100% making Leeward one of the best colleges in HI in terms of accessibility. The Children’s Center is an early childhood preschool center with placement priority given to the children of Leeward’s students, staff and faculty. Graduates of Leeward average salaries starting at $25,700.

9. Kapiolani Community College

Score: 97.4

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

A small, public community college in Honolulu, Kapiolani offers Culinary Arts, Hospitality and Tourism Management and Liberal Arts studies. The average enrollment is approximately 2,600 students. Part of the University of Hawaii, KCC was started in 1946 with an emphasis on food service study. As time went on, programs in nursing, business education and dental assisting were added. Located at the base of Diamond Head, the mission of KCC is the revitalization of technical education in the 21st Century. Resident students can expect to pay tuition, fees and board of approximately $12,200 for the Fall 2019/Spring 2020 academic year. Student acceptance rate is 100%. Kapiolani CC is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. A graduate of Kapiolani CC earns $30,000.00 on average.

Named in honor of Queen Julia Kapiolani, who was the first Hawaiian queen to visit the US, KCC strives to maintain the spirit of service to the indigenous community that Queen Julia exhibited as a monarch. Through practicing values of honesty, service and responsibility, KCC further honors the legacy of Queen Julia.

10. University of Phoenix-Hawaii

Score: 97

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

Part of the University of Phoenix system, UOP-Hawaii is in Honolulu. A for-profit university, students can earn 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. UOP-Hawaii offers tuition lock for Fall 2019 undergrad students at $398/credit hour ($1,194/course) throughout their degree process. UOP specializes in having faculty with real-life experience and most instructors have over 20-years on-the-job, bringing real-world problem solving to the classroom.

Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission since 1978, UOP-Hawaii offers on-demand tutoring, small class size and online study sessions. At 661 undergraduate students enrolled in 2018, UOP-Hawaii allows for continuous interactive learning experiences taught by professionals with real-world skills. The curriculum is built to benefit the working student who finds lots of demands on their time and for whom traditional academic calendars don’t work. Most students are over 25 and looking to increase their employability and/or change careers.

11. Honolulu Community College

Score: 95.8

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

Just outside downtown Honolulu, Honolulu CC is a 2-year college established in 1920 as a technical school and brought into the University of Hawaii system in 1964. The Honolulu campus offer Liberal Arts Associate degrees that transfer directly to the University of Hawaii. The auxiliary campus near the Honolulu airport offers Aeronautical Maintenance and Commercial Aviation programs. On Sand Island, HCC houses the Marine Education and Training Center. HCC is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges as reaffirmed in January 2019. Enrollment is about 1,200 undergraduates with alumni earning $28,000.00 on average. Tuition and fees are equal to other UOH community colleges with resident tuition set at $131/credit hour and flat fee rate of $15/semester.

Special programs at HCC include the Pearl Harbor Apprenticeship Program which combines classroom instruction with paid, cooperative work experience at the shipyard. All credit through the program applies towards an Associate’s in Applied Science. Honolulu CC is also offering a limited Flex AA program to encourage working adults to return to school and finish their degrees.

12. Hawaii Community College

Score: 95.4

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

A public 2-year college in Hilo on the island of Hawaii, Hawaii CC started in 1941 as the Hawaii Vocational School. Joining the University of Hawaii system in 1970 the college was named Hawaii Community College. Dedicated to serving the diverse community on the island, HCC works in partnership with community leaders to ensure the efficacy and sustainability of the curriculum. Also accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Hawaii CC is focused on four integrated principles: community, technology, Hawaiian culture and protection of the environment. With an undergraduate population of almost 1,200 students, popular courses include Liberal Arts, Fire Science and Culinary Arts degrees. Tuition is $131/credit hour for resident students with a flat additional fee of $30 per semester.

As part of the mission at HCC, tropical forestry and agroforestry programs are popular utilizing the island as a laboratory for 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, two years post-graduation. Students were very impressed with the level of instruction and 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 in the mountains of Koolau on Oahu, Windward CC specializes in the creative arts, study of Hawaiian culture and environmental sciences. With approximately 2500 undergraduate students, the faculty to student ratio is around 18:1. Tuition, as part of the UOH system, is $131/credit hour with flat rate semester fees of $25. Like all other UOH community colleges, Windward CC is also accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. Geared toward maintaining indigenous Hawaiian culture and lifestyle, the campus offers 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 maintain Hawaiian culture and values.

A rural campus, Windward CC takes pride in serving the Oahu island. Acceptance is 100% and graduates can expect to earn upwards of $29,000. Niche rankings indicate that 80% of graduates are employed 2-years after graduation. The Aloha spirit is ever present on the campus and in the community. Instructors are highly credentialed and responsive to student feedback.

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