UH studying free-tuition offer
By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer
As the University of Hawai'i edges closer to deciding on plans for its Sept. 11 tuition waiver program, a few things have started to crystallize: The offer won't necessarily last more than one semester, it won't include noncredit courses, and loss of a job doesn't mean automatic qualification.
Students will have to prove they are financially needy to receive the tuition waiver. And in an effort to protect its budget, the university will steer students toward federal financial aid first before granting them a tuition waiver.
UH officials have been meeting among themselves and with state and city agencies to figure out how to administer a free tuition offer to people who have been laid off after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
A final plan will be approved by the Board of Regents at its Oct. 19 meeting. University officials say details about the tuition waiver will be released later this month.
Despite the uncertainty about program details, potential students should apply for admission to a UH campus and fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is available at all campus financial aid offices, said Doris Ching, UH vice president for student affairs. The form is used by college officials across the country to determine if a student is financially needy.
Ching said applicants should also keep their unemployment papers and tell financial aid officials that they have lost their jobs.
"We would have to have some kind of documentation that says they are laid off," she said.
The federal aid paperwork could show that students qualify for more than a tuition waiver. Students could also receive financial assistance for books, campus fees or living expenses, said Jo Ann Yoshida, systemwide financial aid specialist.
But the paperwork to determine financial need can take a month or two to process under normal circumstances, Yoshida said. If a flood of applications comes in this fall, officials say it could take even longer.
"People should talk to the financial aid office quickly," Yoshida said. "There will be more layoffs between now and January. I'm afraid we'll be inundated."
UH is already receiving calls from laid-off workers, she said.
UH President Evan Dobelle, who made the free tuition offer, has said the university has a moral obligation to help make the state's economy less dependent on tourism.
The student body could grow by as much as 20,000 if people take advantage of the tuition offer. Dobelle has said. But with little knowledge yet of how many students to expect, university officials are treading in unfamiliar waters.
"We're all in the development stage," Yoshida said.
The financial impact of a free tuition offer will remain uncertain until economists can predict just how many Hawai'i residents may end up unemployed.
Most of the courses offered at UH campuses are for credit and would qualify for the waiver. But everything at UH's Employment Training Center is noncredit, as are some of the fast-track classes at the community colleges that are designed to teach people job skills.
Community college officials are trying to find money for some of their job-skills courses, especially those geared toward hotel and restaurant workers.
Ching said the Sept. 11 tuition waivers will be reassessed at the end of the spring semester.
"This is at least an immediate assistance," she said. "There's an opportunity."
Reach Jennifer Hiller at email@example.com or 525-8084.