MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - At the University of Hawaii at Manoa, tuition for Hawaii students is about $10,700 for the school year.
That's about $4,000 lower than the national average.
But tuition costs have risen steadily since the Great Recession, when lawmakers cut tens of millions of dollars in UH funding.
"It has been going up quite a bit.That's why I wanted to finish in four years," senior Wyatt Nunes said.
Junior Kayla Emocling said she works three jobs to pay for school.
"I still find it a struggle to pay for tuition, and I live off campus," she said.
State Sen. Kai Kahele believes it would be easier on UH students if the university put a freeze on tuition and tied future increases to the state's median household income.
"We're getting to the point where higher education is becoming quickly out of reach for so many of Hawaii's families and students, especially students that come from lower income rural communities. They're having a hard time going to college," he said.
Kahele's Senate Bill 2329 was heard by the House Higher Education Committee Tuesday. He believes it the measure became law it could increase the university's enrollment.
But UH chief financial officer Kalbert Young told committee members that a cap doesn't account for what it costs to provide services to students.
"Artificially capping tuition or limiting any tuition increase into the future without any respect or thought to how the larger cost drivers within the university are accelerating is not a good way to run any business," he said.
UH didn't increase tuition this year. But it could go up as much as 2 percent in each of the next two academic years, though Young doesn't think it will be that high.
"We are very mindful of not increasing tuition in the future that would make it unaffordable for Hawaii residents to attend the university," he said.
But Kahele believes UH tuition is already too high for many residents.
"The university needs additional appropriations from various different sources," he said. "I don't think one of those sources should be resting on the backs of students or parents."
UH community colleges have been ranked as the most affordable in the nation, and a recent national survey said UH graduates carry the lowest student debt in the country.
The House Higher Education committee makes its decision on Kahele's tuition cap bill on Thursday.