Hawaii Online Colleges & Universities – Top Online Schools for 2015

In 2013, Hawaii ranked 41st in the nation for the total number of career schools, colleges and universities, boasting 30 post-secondary institutions with an estimated 103,000 students enrolled in a certificate or degree program. Hawaii represents a smaller state in its own right, and about seven percent of the total population is made up solely of students who attend online schools, public and private four-year universities, community and junior colleges. Here's a look at the state's institutions by type:

College Type Number in Hawaii
Public 11
Private for-profit 5
Private not-for-profit (no religious affiliation) 4
Private not-for-profit (religious affiliation) 3

Top Cities in Hawaii for College Education

The proximity of Hawaii’s urban universities, tropical rainforests and warm sandy beaches offers both brains and beauty to the student population. Take a look here to discover more about Hawaii’s educational geography:

Highest Student Populations (Total)

  • Honolulu (54,000)
  • Pearl City (13,000)
  • Hilo (9,000)

Locations with Most Colleges (Total)

  • Honolulu (20)
  • Pearl City (2)
  • Hilo (2)

At a Glance: Colleges and Universities in Honolulu

Honolulu exemplifies the spirit and culture of all the Hawaiian Islands so it should be no surprise that there are more postsecondary institutions in Honolulu than any other city in Hawaii. Because Honolulu is a tourist and international business destination, students receive a multicultural global experience, in addition to their textbook education. The University of Hawaii at Manoa – the flagship campus of the University of Hawaii system – maintains its headquarters in Honolulu. UH Manoa consistently receives accolades, including recognition for its graduate programs by U.S. News & World Report, and placement in the “top 30 public universities for federal research funding” by the National Science Foundation. Academic programs at UH Manoa include bachelor’s degrees in 92 fields, master’s degrees in 84 fields, and doctoral degrees in 51 fields. Honolulu Community College is also part of the University of Hawaii system and offers several career and technical degrees. Honolulu CC students also have direct transfer to select UH campuses if they wish to complete a four-year degree. Kapi’olani Community College (KCC) is another option in Honolulu. The school’s culinary arts program offers a world-class education and is currently developing its state-of-the-art Culinary Institute of the Pacific. KCC also offers strong STEM and health programs. Lastly, Hawaii Pacific University is the state’s leading private university and also one of the most culturally diverse universities in the U.S. HPU has won its share of honors, especially its nursing program, which was recognized by U.S. News & World Report in 2013.

Honolulu Online Education Options

Although Honolulu is a bustling city, many parts of Hawaii are rural, which can significantly limit higher education options. As a result, many colleges and universities in Honolulu offer distance learning options to serve students who are restricted by geography or personal circumstances. The University of Hawaii at Manoa, for instance, offers several online degree programs, mostly at the graduate level. Examples of offerings include a master’s in computer science, master’s in educational foundation, executive MBA, and bachelor’s in elementary education. Honolulu CC’s Distance Education program offers high quality online courses in a range of subjects. Cable courses are also available at the college. These distance learning courses allow students to view live or pre-recorded courses on select cable TV channels. Chaminade University, the only Catholic university in the state, also has a robust selection of fully online and hybrid courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Online Learning Opportunities in Hawaii

Distance learning has become a popular learning mode in recent years. Once mainly a product of private colleges and universities, online degrees have risen to a prominent feature in the educational landscape of Hawaii’s public institutions, as well. At the University of Hawaii, for instance, students can choose from nearly 40 fully online programs at the certificate, associate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels. Despite a minor yet noticeable focus on education and health, U of H offers distance learning options in business administration, the social sciences and computer science. In addition to the University of Hawaii, both Chaminade and Hawaii Community College provide online learning options to students, as well.

Dissecting the Cost of College

No matter the region of the United States, students hoping to begin a degree program should consider the various costs that come along with the experience. Tuition costs are often based on school (private vs. public), on school locale and on student residency status. Residents of Hawaii paid an average tuition of $7,725 in 2012.

In 2012, schools in Hawaii charged an average of $7,805 for combined tuition and fees, including an average $80for various student fees. These fees are often mandatory, and they include anything from charges for lab use and student life activities to parking.

Students need to consider not only fees and tuition when planning out a budget, but living expenses, as well. These expenses vary from state to state, based on housing, gasoline prices, food, etc., and Hawaii’s cost of living (COL) is well above the national average. The following data is a breakdown of the COL indexes for Hawaii’s major urban area, Honolulu, as it compares to the national average of 100:

Urban Area Composite Index Housing Groceries Utilities Transportation Health Care Misc.
Honolulu 65.7% 149.0% 60.1% 46.6% 26.2% 20.0% 17.9%

Choosing the right college is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make. After looking at tuition, fees and cost of living, examining return on investment is a logical next step. For example, some colleges with affordable tuition and fees offer below-average career prospects after graduation. In contrast, some schools with higher cost structures give students a great chance to earn top salaries after earning a degree. The following schools represent the very best in Hawaii for return on investment (ROI), as measured by lifetime salary of the average graduate minus total cost of attendance for four years:

  • University of Hawaii at Manoa
  • Hawaii Pacific University
  • Chaminade University
  • University of Hawaii at Hilo

Financial Aid and Other Funding Sources

Financial aid and budgetary concerns play an important role in making the decision about post-secondary education. Both federal aid and scholarships provide funding for students seeking degrees from any one of Hawaii’s public and private institutions. Federal aid requires FAFSA forms and awards financial support based on student need. In 2012, 56 percent of Hawaii’s undergraduate students accepted federal funds.

In place of -- or in addition to federal financial aid -- a number of Hawaiian companies and organizations provide money to students who enter into degree programs, and it is not uncommon for students to receive scholarships from the schools themselves. The following associations offer scholarships in the state of Hawaii:

  • Hawaii Community Foundation
  • Fukunaga Scholarship Foundation
  • MGMA Western Section
  • Hawaii Hotel Industry Foundation
  • Hawaii Chapter-David T. Woolsey
  • The University of Hawai‘I System
  • Hawaii Chapter: Society of Fire Protection Engineers
  • Korean University Club of Hawaii
  • Seattle Foundation
  • Office of Hawaiian Affairs
  • Ke Ali‘i Pauahi Foundation
  • Pearl Harbor Hawaiian Civic Club
  • Kona Hawaiian Civic Club
  • Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association

Hawaii Colleges and Accreditation

Students interested in the educational experience in Hawaii must first consider the accreditation of prospective institutions before getting too far down the path to a decision. Many financial aid opportunities are open only to students attending accredited schools. Organizations such as The Western Association of Schools and Colleges evaluate the institutions in Hawaii to verify that they offer the highest grade education within both campus and online learning situations (http://www.acswasc.org‎). In addition, Hawaii colleges may seek accreditation from various specialized agencies, most notably to vet the quality of their medical schools, business programs or similar academic offerings. For example, the University of Hawaii's Shidler College of Business is accredited by The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB).


While the preceding data is a good jumping off point, enrolling in one of Hawaii’s esteemed degree programs is still a big decision. Students must consider learning modes (campus or online), budgeting concerns and, most importantly, where to enroll. Check the following profiles for more information on Hawaii’s various colleges and universities, including their degree programs and online courses.

We at AC Online think that affordability is perhaps the most important factor in choosing a school, but we also understand that colleges and universities are so much more than the numbers on their price tags. In order to better understand the landscape of online learning in Hawaii, we asked the state's two most affordable online colleges what made their online programs worthwhile. Read the interviews here:

Online Departments in Hawaii
  • Brigham Young University-Hawaii +

    How would you describe your institution's approach to online learning?

    Our approach to online learning is hallmarked by our attention to interpersonal student/student and student/teacher interaction. All of our online courses have low enrollments so that the teacher can interact with the students on an individual basis. This interaction happens not only through text but also through video interaction. We chose our learning management system to promote these kind of interactions.

    What makes your online programs so valuable to students?

    Our online program is designed for students who wish to come to campus or transfer to another university. These courses are designed to help students meet the rigorous academic standards at BYU-Hawaii. For international students we have a high-quality English training online program. These English as an International Language (EIL) courses are designed to help students communicate effectively in the academic arena.

    Where do you see your online programs in the next five years? Beyond?

    In five years I expect that our online program will be serving the same purposes of preparing students to come to BYU-Hawaii and providing international students with high-quality English language training focused on academic preparation. This means that we do not expect to offer a lot of degrees and certificates online. However, we do expect our online EIL program to grow significantly.

  • University of Hawaii-West Oahu +

    How would you describe your institution's approach to online learning?

    The University of Hawaii - West Oahu's distance education program takes pride in offering quality online coursework that is open, accessible and affordable. We have many non-traditional students who take advantage of our online opportunities and find the classes convenient for balancing home and work life with school. 63% of students at UH West Oahu take at least one online course while attending the University.

    What makes your online programs so valuable to students?

    UH West Oahu's online courses meet the expectations of an in-person class by utilizing innovative multimedia tools to enhance the classroom experience. Through a variety of technical tools, distance education coursework is dynamic, collaborative, and offers the online student a complete educational experience.

    Where do you see your online programs in the next 5 years? Beyond?

    UH West Oahu strives for continued expansion of our online programs at an affordable rate and the development of additional quality course offerings.

For those searching for affordable distance learning, online schools in Hawaii are an excellent choice. With an abundance of options, many online degree programs in Hawaii offer access to the same professors, similar admissions requirements, and equivalent tuition assistance, resulting in the ability to earn the same diploma or certification as students who attend classes on campus. Hawaii online colleges take pride in all of their superior distance-learning options. We have a list of the very best distance learning colleges in the state, ordered by tuition and fees, so you can be one step further in your search for a quality online program in Hawaii.

Click here to see our methodology.
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
Tuition and fees: $4,630 Enrollment: 3,771 Accredited: YES Website: Brigham Young University-Hawaii

Brigham Young University-Hawaii offers a limited selection of online college courses, allowing students to earn their associate degree in arts and sciences, as well as graduate certificates in entrepreneurship, American sign language, or intercultural peace building. These online college courses are meant as preparation for physically attending the college but can be used as a platform for a number of pursuits.

University of Hawaii-West Oahu
Tuition and fees: $5,602 Enrollment: 2,104 Accredited: YES Website: University of Hawaii-West Oahu

Like many online colleges in Hawaii, the University of Hawaii-West Oahu offers a vast array of degree options and fields of study and provides a comprehensive system of support to provide the highest quality education possible. Students will utilize a number of resources, including video chat, interactive television, and much more.

University of Hawaii at Hilo
Tuition and fees: $6,184 Enrollment: 4,179 Accredited: YES Website: University of Hawaii at Hilo

The University of Hawaii at Hilo offers an array of online college degree programs that let students earn their associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in several fields, many of which have a strong focus on either education or health care. The college offers a number of resources for online students, including video conferencing and course management systems.

University of Hawaii at Manoa
Tuition and fees: $9,404 Enrollment: 16,886 Accredited: YES Website: University of Hawaii at Manoa

The University of Hawaii at Manoa offers a huge number of online college degree programs, allowing students to attain their associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degrees in a wide variety of fields. Course material and classes are delivered in several different methods, including via online management systems, live and prerecorded teaching sessions in actual classrooms, and much more.

Remington College-Honolulu Campus
Tuition and fees: $16,140 Enrollment: 1,021 Accredited: YES Website: Remington College-Honolulu Campus

Remington College-Honolulu Campus provides both associate and bachelor’s online degree programs, both of which offer several fields of study, all of which have a strong focus on either business or the legal system. The college offers a complete set of resources for online students, including virtual classrooms, video chat, and more.

Hawaii Pacific University
Tuition and fees: $18,600 Enrollment: 8,070 Accredited: YES Website: Hawaii Pacific University

The Hawaii Pacific University is one of several online colleges in Hawaii that offer a wide range of online course options. Students may earn their associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree, as well as earn a variety of graduate certificates in numerous fields of study. The college is accredited by several prestigious organizations, including the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges.