UHMC seeks equal access to funding

The University of Hawaii Maui College grew 59 percent between the fall 2006 enrollment of 2,841 students and 4,527 students in fall 2011. However, while our enrollment expanded (then contracted to 4,076 students in fall 2013, still a 43 percent growth), the new science building was constructed, and electricity and other costs continued to increase. The university system and state resources were not available until the last fiscal year.

Last year, the college requested funding increases based on enrollment growth and performance-based criteria. This request sought to address needs resulting from more students; consistently exceeding the graduation, math/science initiatives and Native Hawaiian-related performance metrics; and to correct historical disparities among state higher education resources distributed to each county. Among the four counties in the state, Maui County continues to experience the lowest per capita state general fund support for higher education.

Over the last four months, Maui College has appealed to the university system to recognize our comparatively smaller base of general funds, especially in light of our tri-isle service area, higher cost of living and greater student fees. Since the beginning of the performance-based measurements in 2006, the college has exceeded the targets of programs, such as “Achieving the Dream,” that support student success, provided the greatest return on state dollar investment and secured the third largest number and amount of grant awards within the UH 10 campus system. Unfortunately, most of these grants direct the resources to be spent on the projects’ objectives.

Our reasoning suggested that the most recent legislatively appropriated state resources be distributed to the campuses that experienced significant enrollment growth, met performance objectives, required more power and custodial assistance for expanded facilities, demonstrated a significant commitment to help themselves through grants and gifts and other revenue-generation activities, and absorbed unavoidable and comparatively greater costs for travel than Honolulu-based campuses.

With all due respect to our UH system colleagues in Honolulu, Maui College simply seeks equal access to higher education for its Maui County citizens.

It’s often been said that there’s a direct relationship between education and economic development and vitality. Earlier this year, the University of Hawaii’s Economic Research Office reported that UH Maui College’s impact on Maui County exceeded $85 million in 2012 and created more than 700 jobs. In addition to preparing a competent and informed workforce, the democratic decision-making process depends upon educated voters. And as public decision-making grows increasingly complicated, residents and citizens who can ask critical questions will be invaluable. Investing in our county’s intellectual capital is an investment in its economic and social capital as well.

Maui County has a history of leading-edge accomplishments in its visitor industry, high performance computing and astronomical centers, as well as stewarding its considerable natural resources. Maui College’s vision, mission and role in that history continue to evolve. As part of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities, the college offers residents three bachelor of applied science degrees. Even more baccalaureate and master’s degrees are offered through distance learning at the UH Center on campus. Strengthening these opportunities is critical.

Some might say that the college’s lower enrollment is a natural reflection of the county and state’s improving economy. To some extent, this is true. But when an institution is trying to meet the needs of such a rapid expansion against a decadelong imbalance of general funding, re-dressing that imbalance is critical for continued and exceptional success.

As Maui County continues to grow, the quality of our communities and economy will depend on Maui College. This year our college community is updating our vision and mission. Our faculty and staff believe that inspiring learners through learning ourselves is a significant contribution and adds value to our community. We now seek our Maui Nui tri-isle support in correcting Maui College’s historical underfunding of our programs to assure a strong higher education institution for our future.

* Clyde Sakamoto is chancellor of the University of Hawaii Maui College. Ka’ana Mana’o means “sharing thoughts.” It appears on the fourth Sunday of each month. Prepared with assistance from UH-Maui College staff, the column is intended to provide the community of Maui County information about opportunities available through the college at its Kahului campus and its education centers.