Best Community Colleges in Hawaii

Training for a new career or getting a head start on the credits for a bachelor's degree program at a top Hawaii university can be as simple as finding the right study plan at your local community college. There are fewer than 10 two-year schools in the state, but aspiring students in well-populated areas should be able to find an institution within a reasonable distance of where they live.

We gathered a bevy of National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data on the best Hawaii community colleges and analyzed it to find out how they stacked up to one another. The University of Hawaii Community College System may oversee every public two-year institution in the state, but the best community colleges in Hawaii manage to find ways to distinguish themselves and stand out from the pack.



Leeward Community College (Pearl City)

Leeward Community College admitted its first class of students in 1968, and the new institution was immediately busy. More than 1,600 students enrolled in classes that first semester, and enrollment only continued to grow after it moved into its permanent facilities the following year.

LCC remains one of the larger institutions among the best Hawaii community colleges, admitting over 7,200 students each semester. The degree catalog here features nearly 80 degree and certificate programs, including study plans in subjects like Hawaiian studies, television production and tropical agriculture.

What's more, certain major subjects here have earned prestigious national recognition. In 2018, the National Security Agency (NSA) designated LCC as a National Center of Academic Excellence for the high quality of cybersecurity education in its information and computer science program.


Kapi'olani Community College (Honolulu)

Kapi'olani Community College has a history that stretches back to a time before Hawaii officially became a U.S. state. In the years since its 1946 founding, it's grown into a robust institution that educates nearly 6,900 students each semester and features a comfortable student-faculty ratio of around 17:1.

Students who attend KCC have a tendency to stick with their studies after transferring to a university. No other school on our list reported a higher percentage of former students successfully earning their bachelor's degrees.

Close to 40 degree and certificate programs are available to students here. Around 75 percent of those programs are credit-based study plans in subjects like paralegal studies, business and new media arts, while the rest are non-credit training programs designed for working professionals.


Windward Community College (Kaneohe)

Just shy of 2,500 students attend Windward Community College each semester, and that moderate size allows for the type of close-knit educational environment that tends to contribute to student success. The average class here contains fewer than 19 students and most classrooms fill to about 81 percent capacity, so you're not likely to feel lost in the crowd.

Around two dozen degrees and certificates can be earned at WCC. Some of the study plans offered here are entirely unique, like the certificate program in a discipline that the college calls "agripharmatech" — a hybrid of agriculture, pharmacology and biotechnology.

Several more common degree and certificate programs are available here as well. The catalog features degree programs in veterinary technology and natural science alongside certificates in creative media and sustainable agriculture.


Hawaii Community College (Hilo)

Hawaii Community College maintains two campuses on the big island of Hawaii: the flagship location in Hilo and a branch campus in Kona that opened in Fall 2015. The enrolled population here is around 2,600 and the student-faculty ratio is 14:1.

Students looking for online community colleges in Hawaii should definitely give extra consideration to HCC. The institution provides distance education options from its own catalog as well as partnering with other schools in the University of Hawaii system to offer a wide selection of online courses.

The academic catalog here features more than 70 associate degree and certificate programs. Technical and career programs include degrees in carpentry, automotive mechanics technology and electrical installation and maintenance, as well as certificates in information technology, practical nursing and human services.


Honolulu Community College (Honolulu)

Honolulu Community College became a part of the University of Hawaii system in 1964. Since then, it's evolved into a comprehensive community college that educates more than 3,500 students each term.

Students at the main Honolulu campus can pursue an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree program designed for university transfer as well as two-year programs in Hawaiian studies and natural sciences. Career-focused programs available here include a degree or certificate program in architectural and engineering technologies, a certificate program in auto body repair and two levels of study in cosmetology.

Basic tuition and fees expenses here are affordable, coming to just over $3,100 for a 24-credit year. Students who can't pay in full right away can take advantage of a tuition payment plan that can spread costs over up to four payments.

CTE in Hawaii

Career technical education, or CTE, is a way for students to learn a well-rounded set of skills at the same time as they gain the core academic competencies they need to succeed in higher education. CTE students in Hawaii pick a career concentration and study the knowledge and techniques of their chosen field while on the path to earning their diploma, degree or other credential.

These initiatives are making a big difference for high school students who concentrate on CTE subjects in Hawaii. The state's graduation rate for CTE-focused learners is 99 percent, compared to an 83 percent rate for all highschoolers statewide, and fully 100 percent of CTE students who graduate from Hawaii high schools find jobs, enter advanced training programs or join the military within six months of earning their diplomas.

For a more detailed look at the CTE landscape in Hawaii, check out these state-based resources:

  • Learn about the state's vision for CTE programs and see a list of approved programs of study at the career and technical education page of the Hawaii State Department of Education.
  • The Career and Technical Education Center maintained by the Board of Regents of the University of Hawaii System can provide information on CTE programs, funding, career pathways and more.
  • Find out more about the type of programs available to college-level CTE students in Hawaii from the career and technical education page at Honolulu Community College.

The seven members of the University of Hawaii Community College System, which include our five best community colleges in Hawaii, all offer their own selection of career and technical education programs. Some independent or private CTE schools may provide some limited options as well. Check with advisors at your chosen school for details about available programs.

Transferring Credits in Hawaii

If you're planning to stay in-state to continue your education after finishing your community college degree, then you may be in luck. The University of Hawaii, which operates all four of the major public Hawaii universities and oversees the public community college system, has a transfer agreement in place that's designed to help you do just that.

The transfer agreement features an auto-admission option to three of the university-level schools in the UH System:

  • University of Hawaii at Manoa
  • University of Hawaii at Hilo
  • University of Hawaii at West O'ahu

UH System administrators put on a series of information and entertainment events for prospective transfer students during the spring semester. Known as UH Transfer Days, an event comes to each of the UH System community colleges at least once throughout the month of February.

Students planning to attend UH Manoa have another transfer-centered option to consider. Five of the state's community colleges participate in a dual-enrollment degree pathway program called Ka'ie'ie which makes it possible to attend certain courses on your future university campus even before you've met all the requirements to graduate with an associate degree.

For additional insight into education in the state, be sure to read about the top four-year schools in Hawaii. You can also learn about transfer agreements and get some tips for navigating the transfer process in our college transfer guide.

Resources for Community College Students in Hawaii

  • The University of Hawaii Community College System provides a wealth of information about the public two-year schools in the state, offers guidance for the application process and more.
  • The official website of the State of Hawaii features a list of links to continuing education and non-credit courses at top universities and community colleges in Hawaii.
  • Career Kokua, an initiative of the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, can help you find Hawaii scholarships and provide some guidance in the financial aid application process.


Using the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), we generated a list of colleges and universities that met the following criteria:

  • Level of institution is either "At least 2 but less than 4 years" or "Less than 2 years (below associate)"
  • Data is reported for all 14 ranking variables listed in the Methodology section

We ranked the resulting community colleges member schools on multiple factors related to educational opportunity, student performance and student services. Each school was scored on a 10-point scale, using the following data points:

  1. The published in-district tuition and fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  2. The published in-state tuition and fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  3. The in-district per credit hour charge for part-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  4. The in-state per credit hour charge for part-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  5. Percentage of students receiving financial aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  6. Percent of students that transferred to a 4-year institution and completed within 8 years, College Scorecard, 2017
  7. The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
  8. Full-time student retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
  9. Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
  10. Percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
  11. Flexibility, based on the following data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  • Whether the school offers credit for life experiences
  • Whether the school offers programs of study that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
  • Whether the school offers on-campus day care for students' children
  • Whether the school offers any kind of alternative tuition plan. These may include, but aren't limited to, payment plans or guaranteed rates.
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