Online Degree in Hawaiian Studies Popular with Locals and Diaspora

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By Bonnie J. Beatson, WCC Marketing and Public Relations Director

Via a series of eight-week online classes, Windward Community College offers students the opportunity to reconnect with Hawaiian culture and earn an associate’s degree.

“I would like to have a deeper understanding of, reconnect with my culture, and have a solid foundation of my identity while trying to survive in the diaspora,” said Iwalani Raes of Oregon.

Living far from our island home has left some, like Raes, feeling disconnected from Hawaiʻi. And here at home, many Hawaiʻi residents long to delve further into their culture.

Windward Community College’s (WCC) Hawaiʻiloa program takes participants on an educational voyage to renew, or strengthen, their ties to Hawaiʻi while earning an associate (AA) degree in Hawaiian studies. The program is the first of its kind; a new cohort will start in Fall 2023.

Cohorts of 20 participants go through the 100% online program together. By taking classes for eight weeks instead of the usual 16, students focus on only two classes at a time.

“The name Hawaiʻiloa or ‘distant Hawaiʻi,’ is applicable to the aspirations of this cohort – to pull in our Hawaiians who have voyaged near and far from home, and join them back into the fabric of our people, culture and history through this educational endeavor,” said WCC Hawaiian Language Instructor Keoki Faria.

As a new generation of online learning becomes more prevalent, the Hawaiʻiloa program offers an opportunity to advance the integration of ʻōlelo, nohona, and ʻike Hawaiʻi through a distance education pathway in order to support Native Hawaiians wherever they are located.

“There’s no precedent for this kind of learning,” said 2022 Hawaiʻiloa graduate Sarah Malia Antoncich of Washington. “The material we’re presented with is so intentional; it’s meant for people who want and need and deserve it.

“Having a more solid foundation of knowing who I am and where I come from has kind of changed how I see myself in the world, and how I fit in the world,” she added.

Classes in the two-year online program include Hawaiian language; Hawaiian studies (Hawaiʻi: Center of the Pacific, Hawaiian Mythology, Introduction to the Hawaiian Kingdom, Traditional Hawaiian Dance, Introduction to Hawaiian Voyaging); History of Hawaiʻi; The ʻAhupuaʻa; Geology of the Hawaiian Islands; Polynesian Surf Culture; and music (Mele, Moʻolelo and Motion). Coursework may be completed at any time of day.

Students also have access to virtual study groups and virtual counseling or tutoring sessions with WCC staff. It’s brought many of the participants together in ways unimaginable before the pandemic.

According to the 2010 census, 45% of Native Hawaiians live on the continental U.S.

Hawaiʻiloa Coordinator Colette Higgins said, “UH recognizes its kuleana to provide educational opportunities to Native Hawaiians who have moved away. Sometimes it’s when they’ve moved so far from home that it sparks a desire to learn more about their heritage.”

Native Hawaiians living on the mainland will pay in-state, resident tuition for the Hawaiʻiloa Hawaiian Studies degree program. “Many Native Hawaiians living on the continent don’t realize they can get the resident tuition rate. This makes it clear,” said Higgins.

As a graduate of the Hawaiʻiloa program, Raes is grateful for WCC’s support to “become global citizens with a powerful level of awareness of who we are and equipped with skills to make this world a better place for our people and the future of our ʻāina.”


Prospective students are invited to attend an information session via Zoom beginning in March 2023 on the first and fourth Wednesday of the month at 12:00 p.m. HST. Email Māhiehie Garrett, Hawaiʻiloa counselor, at brgarret@hawaii.edu for a Zoom link or more information. To apply to the Hawaiʻiloa program go to: windward.hawaii.edu/programs-of-study/hawaiiloa/.