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 the top four-year schools in Hawaii can be as simple as finding the right community college study plan. There are fewer than 10 community colleges 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 load of National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data on the top Hawaii community colleges and analyzed it to find out how they stacked up to one another. The University of Hawaii Community Colleges system may lay claim to every two-year institution in the state, but the best community colleges in Hawaii manage to find ways to 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 current 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 associate degree and certificate programs, including study plans at multiple levels in subjects like Hawaiian studies, television production and tropical agriculture.

What's more, certain major subjects at LCC have earned prestigious national recognition. In 2018, the National Security Agency (NSA) designated the Pearl City school as a National Center of Academic Excellence for its two-year program in cybersecurity, raising the program's profile nationally and providing graduates with seamless transfer opportunities to similarly recognized universities.


Kapiolani Community College (Honolulu)

Situated next to Diamond Head in southeastern Honolulu, Kapiolani 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 6,700 students each semester and features a comfortable student-faculty ratio of around 17:1.

Affordable tuition and fees may be part of what attracts so many students to KCC every year. A 24-credit year of study here cost Hawaii residents just over $3,100 in 2018 -- a discount of more than $800 from that year's statewide average of $3,920.

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


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 offers academic as well as career-based degrees from four total locations in southern Oahu.

Students at the main Honolulu campus of HCC can pursue a general Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree designed for university transfer as well as two-year programs in Hawaiian studies and natural sciences. Associate of Science (A.S.), Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) and certificate programs are available in a wide range of subjects for career and vocational students.

Basic tuition and fees expenses here are affordable, coming to right around $3,100 for a 24-credit year. Students who can't pay in full right away can take advantage of a tuition payment plan with two-, three- or four-month terms.


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 2,800 and the student-faculty ratio was 15:1 in 2017.

Students looking for online colleges in Hawaii should definitely give extra consideration to HCC. The institution provides distance education options from its own catalog, to be sure, but it also partners with other schools in the University of Hawaii system to offer a selection of online courses from every community college in the state.

The academic catalog here features more than 70 associate degree and certificate programs. Students hoping for some debt-free financial assistance can apply for numerous available scholarship opportunities through HCC and several external sources.


Windward Community College (Kaneohe)

Just over 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 has fewer than 19 students in it 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.

WCC also features some specialized facilities that help this Oahu institution stand out from the pack. To name just a few: an aerospace lab, a ceramics studio, a golf course, a climate-controlled greenhouse and a tropical plant identification facility.


Kauai Community College (Lihue)

Kauai Community College has the lowest enrollment among our best community colleges in Hawaii, reporting fewer than 1,500 students on the rolls in 2017, but the educational opportunities available here are anything but small.

Campus-based students can choose from a catalog of more than 80 associate degree and certificate programs that includes subjects like electronics technology, natural science and geographic information systems (GIS). An array of online courses is available each semester as well, from in such disciplines as English, philosophy, business, electrical engineering and modern languages.

The vast majority of academic and pre-professional students at Kauai CC enroll in two-year study plans, with the A.A. degree standing as the most common award sought. Career and technical students also tend toward associate degrees, with only around 15 percent pursuing a Certificate of Achievement (C.A.) or Certificate of Competence (C.O.).

Resources for Transfer Students in Hawaii

If you're planning to stay in-state to continue your education after finishing your associate degree in community college, 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 an initiative in place that's designed to help you do just that.

The 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

System administrators present a robust information fair for prospective transfer students during the spring semester. Known as UH Transfer Days, the 2018 event took place over a period of two weeks in 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, which range from online schools to campus-based.


We ranked community colleges in Hawaii on multiple factors related to educational opportunity, student performance and student services.

Each school was scored on a 10-point scale, using the following six data points:

  1. The percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  2. Cost of attendance, based on the average net price for students receiving scholarship and grant aid, and the total cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  3. Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  4. The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  5. The transfer-out rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  6. Flexibility, based on the following data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2016

                a) Whether the school offers credit for life experiences
                b) Whether the school offers programs of study that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
                c) Whether the school offers on-campus day care for students' children
                d) Whether the school offers any kind of alternative tuition plan.These may include, but aren't limited to, payment plans or guaranteed rates

Article Sources
  • College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed October 29-30, 2018, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=HI&ct=1+2&ic=2
  • University of Hawaii Community Colleges, accessed October 29, 2018: About Us, http://uhcc.hawaii.edu/sys/about.php; Start your 4-Year Degree, http://uhcc.hawaii.edu/start_4Year/index.php; Degree Pathway Partnerships, http://uhcc.hawaii.edu/start_4Year/degreePartner.php; Ka'ie'ie (Degree Pathway Partnership), http://uhcc.hawaii.edu/kaieie/index.php;
  • School pages, accessed October 29-30, 2018: History of the College, Leeward Community College, http://www.leeward.hawaii.edu/Leeward-history; Fast Facts about Leeward CC, Leeward Community College, http://www.leeward.hawaii.edu/leeward-facts; Programs of Study, Leeward Community College, http://www.leeward.hawaii.edu/programs; Cybersecurity Nationally Recognized, Leeward Community College, http://www.leeward.hawaii.edu/node/1373; About Kapi'olani CC, Kapi'olani Community College, https://www.kapiolani.hawaii.edu/about-kcc/; College Profile, Kapi'olani Community College, https://www.kapiolani.hawaii.edu/college-profile/; Tuition and Fees, Kapi'olani Community College, https://www.kapiolani.hawaii.edu/paying-for-college/tuition-and-fees/; Credit Programs, Kapi'olani Community College, https://www.kapiolani.hawaii.edu/academics/credit-programs/; Non-Credit Programs, Kapi'olani Community College, https://www.kapiolani.hawaii.edu/academics/non-credit-programs/; About, Honolulu Community College, https://www.honolulu.hawaii.edu/about; Programs of Study, Honolulu Community College, https://www.honolulu.hawaii.edu/programs; Career and Technical Education, Honolulu Community College, https://www.honolulu.hawaii.edu/cte; Payment Plan, Honolulu Community College, https://www.honolulu.hawaii.edu/paymentplan; Tuition and Fees, Honolulu Community College, https://www.honolulu.hawaii.edu/tuition; Annual Reports, Honolulu Community College, https://www.honolulu.hawaii.edu/annualreport; About Hawaii CC, Hawaii Community College, http://hawaii.hawaii.edu/about; Programs of Study, Hawaii Community College, http://hawaii.hawaii.edu/programs-of-study; Registering for a DE class, Hawaii Community College, http://hawaii.hawaii.edu/de/registering-for-a-de-class#whats-offered; Scholarship Information, Hawaii Community College, http://hawaii.hawaii.edu/financialaid/scholarships; About, Windward Community College, https://windward.hawaii.edu/About_WCC/index.php; Institutional Info, Windward Community College, https://windward.hawaii.edu/Institutional_Info/; Degrees and Certificates, Windward Community College, https://windward.hawaii.edu/Academics/Degrees_Certificates.php; Certificate of Achievement in Agripharmatech, Windward Community College, https://windward.hawaii.edu/Academics/Agripharmatech_CA/; Special Facilities, Windward Community College, https://windward.hawaii.edu/About_WCC/Special_Facilities.php; About Kauai CC, Kauai Community College, http://kauai.hawaii.edu/about-kauai-cc; Fast Facts Dashboard, Kauai Community College, https://public.tableau.com/profile/amanda.fluharty.kau#!/vizhome/FastFactsDashboard/FASTFACTS; Degree Programs & Certificates, Kauai Community College, http://kauai.hawaii.edu/programs; Distance Learning, Kauai Community College, http://kauai.hawaii.edu/kauai-cc-distance-learning;
  • UH community college students offered seamless transfer to four-year campuses, University of Hawaii System, February 6, 2018, accessed October 30, 2018, https://www.hawaii.edu/news/2018/02/06/uh-community-college-students-transfer-days/
  • Tuition and Fees by Sector and State over Time, The College Board, accessed October 29-30, 2018, https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-fees-sector-state-over-time
  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/