While many Americans think of Hawaii and the islands of the Pacific as a tropical wonderland, the educational outlook for students growing up in these areas, or for students who trace their families back to these ethnic groups, can be less than enchanting.

Only 18 percent of Pacific Islander adults have earned a bachelor's degree, and Pacific Islanders are much less likely to hold bachelor's degrees than the general public. Poverty rates are also higher among these demographics, with household incomes falling 27 percent below the national average.

Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are also more likely to be without healthcare coverage, and more likely to have their homes foreclosed on. With multiple financial challenges affecting their basic everyday needs, finding funds for education can be an additional strain on their time and finances, making financial aid for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders a crucial resource for many students.

Unique Challenges Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Students

Separation from Asian-American Students

Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students are an underrepresented minority when it comes to college enrollment and educational attainment. Because of outdated systems of categorization, these students are often included with other Asian students. Though the Census Bureau has made changes to separate these cultures into distinct groups, educational entities have not necessarily followed suit.

Asians are three times more likely than Pacific Islanders to hold bachelor's degrees and five times more likely to have earned advanced degrees. Grouping these students together and averaging their successes can mask the difficulties Pacific Islander students face.

The Challenges of Being a First-Gen College Student

In addition to the financial challenges these students face, they are often also unfamiliar with the higher education landscape because of their status as first-generation college students.

Many first generation college students struggle with the academic rigor of their collegiate programs, as well as dealing with other issues like:

  • Unfamiliarity with the collegiate lifestyle: Many students feel guilt over leaving their family's traditional way of life in order to seek higher education. And, when they struggle with collegiate issues and concerns, they feel unable to share their issues and burden their families.
  • Additional expenses of college life: The costs of participating in the college experience can include everything from textbooks to transportation to social activities. In order to take part in college life, many first-generation students take on jobs, which then can decrease their ability to study and prepare for their classes.
  • Lack of mentorship: Without the social and professional networks many of their peers possess, these first-generation students may struggle to find careers in their chosen fields and end up saddled with educational debt and no way to repay it.

Online Education for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Students

However, while there are certainly many challenges facing these students, that doesn't mean college or higher education is off the table for those from Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander backgrounds. Pursuing nontraditional education programs, including online degree plans, can give them access to training that helps to build their skills, while also allowing them the flexibility to work, support families or participate in their communities.

Programs and Initiatives to Support Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders

Various options are available to provide support to students from these communities who are seeking to further their education.

The South Pacific Islander Mentorship Program partners students with mentors who can guide them in making choices that influence their collegiate success. This organization, led by a coalition of Pacific Islander education advocates, also focuses on creating no-cost educational events and connecting students to applicable scholarships.

Federal TRIO Programs offer support to colleges and universities that support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. These students include low-income and first-generation college students; the programs are designed to maintain support from middle school through college.

The VA Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Special Emphasis Program supports career achievement for students with Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander heritage. Among other efforts, the program encourages partnerships with college programs that serve these students, in order to make them aware of and help them prepare for career opportunities.

Scholarships and Grants for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Students


For Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students seeking to complete their education, scholarship and aid programs are available. A few examples include:

OCAPICA Scholars: This program looks at more than academic achievement to recognize its scholarship recipients. Students who show merit in the workplace or in their community are also considered for scholarship awards between $500 and $5,000 annually.

APIA Scholars: This program seeks to provide opportunities for Pacific Islander students with socioeconomic challenges. Its awards, which range from $2,500 to $20,000 (multi-year), recognize academic achievement, leadership and community involvement.

William K. Schubert Minority Nursing Scholarship: This program is designed to aid minority students -- including Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders -- who plan to go into pediatric nursing as a career field, but who lack the economic resources to achieve those goals.


Grants, which may focus more on financial need than on academic achievement, are also available for students of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander heritage. A few examples of grants that support these populations include:

The Pauahi Foundation funds a variety of grants, with preference going to students of Native Hawaiian ancestry and those attending Kamehameha Schools. Their awards can be used to support collegiate education and vocational/trade training.

The Manoa Opportunity Grant is available to students at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. The grant award can be as high as $4,000 and is awarded to students based on information submitted on their FAFSA.

The Arthington-Davy Fund was established to assist students born in Tonga of Tongan parents. The fund provides awards to cover full or partial tuition for post-graduate programs at any institution in the world. Preference is given to students who intend to use their studies for the benefit of Tongan development.

Organizations and Other Resources

For students seeking to further their educational goals, additional resources are available to help and support their efforts.

Resources for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Students

Equity Assistance Centers: Designed to support students and provide equal opportunities.

GEAR UP Hawaii: College readiness program supporting and providing resources for Hawaiian students

Tongan English Literacy Project: Peace Corps program focusing on early education in English literacy

Resources for First-Generation Students

First generation college students are embarking on a path to success for both themselves and their families. If you need resources to help guide you through the first-time collegiate experience, there are online resources that can be helpful, including:

I'm First: An online blog and forum for first gen students to connect and support one another.

First Gen Fellows: An educational fellowship that provides practical training via 10-week summer job opportunities.

Finding Resources on Google and Other Search Engines

While some students may have trouble connecting directly with mentors, there are plenty of online resources available to get them started on their educational pursuits. When searching on Google pr other search engines for additional resources, some keywords that may be helpful include:

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