Friday, February 2, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, February 2, 2001

Cayetano scholarships need thorough debate

Gov. Ben Cayetano’s idea of sending Hawaii’s brighter high school graduates to the University of Hawai’i for free has set off a fascinating philosophical debate that should receive the widest and most thorough discussion.

Cayetano proposes using the interest from the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund and some tobacco settlement money to create a New Century Scholarship fund that would enable A or B students from any Hawaii private or public high school to attend any UH campus for free for their freshman year.

Among the questions this idea poses:

Is scholarship funding the best use of the income from the hurricane fund?

Is Cayetano targeting the right students?

There is a powerful argument to be made that the hurricane fund should be reserved specifically for that purpose, using the income derived from it to build it ever bigger toward the day it’s needed.

And it will be needed. It’s true that private insurers are back after their post-Iniki flight. But the next hurricane direct hit will surely send the insurers packing again — especially if it’s Oahu that gets it.

There also is a strong byt debatable case to be made for returning that portion of the hurricane fund that property owners paid into it.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that sufficient funding can be found for Cayetano’s scholarship plan, whatever the source, the next — and much more interesting — question is: Which students should be subsidized?

UH President Kenneth Mortimer wonders why Cayetano wants to underwrite the brighter students. "Basically," Mortimer said, "I’m concerned not so much for the B students as for the needy students."

We also think there’s an element of value lost when "free" education is easily available. Will some students simply elect to "hang out" at UH simply because it’s free? We tend to value more that which is harder to come by.

We suggest Cayetano consider using whatever money is found for scholarships to augment existing financial aid programs. A very fair and viable system now exists for aiding college students, both with grants and loans, on the basis of both merit and need.

UH gives about $15 million a year in tuition waivers now, and 70 percent of that amount goes to financially needy students, says UH Vice President Doris Ching, who observes that Cayetano appears to be taking a different tack, toward improving the state’s workforce.

There’s room for both emphases, if we find the money to enrich the existing aid system, and market it better.

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