CBO - Summer 2020

Why not study in paradise?

Coastal Oahu, Hawaii

Attending university or college in Hawaii

You’d be hard pressed to encounter anyone who has been to the Hawaiian Islands who would have a disparaging thing to say about the place. The natural beauty, the diverse culture and the relaxed approach to life make it a destination of choice for many travellers. So, if you were counselling a student who is seeking a bit of adventure abroad, Hawaii could be a fantastic choice. 

Of the 26,000 Canadians who choose to study in the United States every year, only a few make their way to the Aloha State. Comprised of eight major islands and a geography of volcanic hills, coral seascapes and lush tropical forests, Hawaii is considered a nature lover’s dream come true. 

Cultural considerations

When advising students on post-secondary destinations,counsellors often play the role of friendly interrogator with questions like: 

  • What is your area of interest? 
  • Are you willing to study away from home? 
  • Can your parents afford the additional expenses of studying abroad? 

If a student expresses an interest in studying beyond Canada’s borders, the counsellor will go deeper with their questions: 

  • Do you want to attend a school that is similar or different from what you would experience in Canada? 
  • Are you comfortable attending a school where the language and culture might be vastly different from your own? 
  • Are you looking for an adventure in addition to a program that suits your needs?

Once a counsellor gets to the root of what a student wants for their academic future, they can advise them accordingly. If the student is considering taking their academic journey to Hawaii, the counsellor can let them know that Hawaiian post-secondary institutions offer a wide variety of programs. While tuition and travel would not be cheap, the “culture shock” would not be too overwhelming based on the fact that Hawaii’s working language is English and their society provides a mix of modern U.S. and Indigenous Hawaiian culture. Couple this with the fact that Hawaiians are a famously welcoming and tolerant people and it becomes apparent that Canadian students would be in a unique position to not only receive a quality education but also find themselves enriched by the Hawaiian philosophy of living as worry free a life as possible.  


The Hawaiian post-secondary public education system is inclusive and diverse. Known as the University of Hawaii System (UH System), programming is offered on all of the main Hawaiian islands with choices ranging from certificate to doctorate studies. The key to the UH System is accessibility. It seems that the founders of the system had a simple premise in mind when they devised the current set up in 1907. While most American states allow for a variety of post-secondary institutions to run independently in direct competition with one another, Hawaii chose to work in a unified manner to deliver higher learning to everyone. So, within the UH System, you have the prestigious University of Hawaii at Manoa that offers an elite range of undergraduate and graduate programs on the island of Oahu while over on the island of Kauai you have Kauai Community College that offers a myriad of technology accreditation programs as well as degree offerings. In all, there are ten campuses in the UH System that deliver opportunities for all learners – from philosophers to scientists and accountants to carpenters. In all, around 50,000 students are engaged in higher learning throughout the Hawaiian Islands via the UH System. 

What it costs

While there are scholarship and student aid opportunities, it
isn’t cheap to go to school in the UH System (then again,
it isn’t cheap to go to school anywhere in North America). By U.S. standards, tuition and the cost of living are considered reasonable. By Canadian standards, they would be considered quite pricey when you take into account the exchange rate. Undergraduate university programs at the UH Manoa campus cost over $22,000 (all dollar amounts in CAD) for non-residents and over $14,000 at the Hilo and West Oahu campuses. Those costs almost double depending on the program a student enrolls in when additional fees are taken into consideration. Meanwhile, the college campuses cost $480 per course or roughly $6,000 a year (again, costs go up with other fees and books). Room and board – whether residence on campus or an apartment off campus – can drive the total cost up to between $40,000 and $70,000 Canadian. Also, when you factor in travel to and from Hawaii over the course of a degree, diploma or certificate program, one can see that studying in this isolated state can cost quite a bit of money. However, seeing that a post-secondary education in Canada can cost north of $25,000 for students studying away from home, one has to wonder if Hawaii isn’t worth the financial hit if you have the economic means to pull it off. There are also the intangibles: the social and life skills that come from studying abroad.

Highlights of the UH System:

  • The University of Hawaii at Manoa is ranked 79th when compared to other public universities in the United States by U.S. News and World Report. The survey compares over 1,400 universities around the U.S.
    • UH Manoa also ranked 177th as the best value school and has the notable distinction of graduating students with a low debt level.
    • UH Manoa’s business and engineering programs are in the top 150 in the U.S..
  • In a comparison of western U.S. universities by U.S. New and World Report, the University of Hawaii at West Oahu ranks 4th among public universities.
  • U.S. News and World Report identifies the University of Hawaii at Hilo as the most ethnically diverse campus in the U.S.

*based on the U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges Ranking 2020.

Once again, it should be noted that the UH System offers pretty much any progam a student might want to take. Whether a student is looking to study liberal arts, accounting, automotive technology or animation – the UH System has it somewhere in its diverse, inclusive and generous course offerings. 


Students also have the option of attending private universities and colleges in Hawaii. The chart below provides a general comparison of three of these schools:

Brigham Young University – HawaiiOperated by the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints, BYU-Hawaii offers university programming to around 3,000 students from over 70 countries.Tuition: $8,000 Residence, books and fees: $18,000A wide range of arts, science and business programs with a compliment of religious education courses.
Chaminade UniversityA Roman Catholic university run by the Marianist order, Chaminade offers bachelor’s and master’s degree programs to around 2,000 students.Tuition: $30,000 Residence, books and fees: $20,000  Programs of study include biology, business, criminal justice, education, forensic sciences, interior design, nursing, and religious studies
Hawaii Pacific UniversityA private university that offers undergraduate, graduate, and research programs to over 3,000 students.Tuition: $37,000 Residence, books and fees: $22,000Programs of study include business, social science, science and medicine.

The private universities and colleges face stiff competition from the UH System so they are motivated to deliver unique, high value programming that sets them apart.

Why Hawaii?

Why not Hawaii? Education is an investment in a person’s future. It helps them set up the next stage of their life. Hawaii not only offers quality education in both the public and private realms, it also offers a Polynesian cultural experience that is founded on tolerance, acceptance and diversity. There is little doubt that Canadian students choosing to travel to Hawaii for their post-secondary learning will come back greatly enriched and changed forever. 

By Sean Dolan