UH-MC looking for ways to boost enrollment

University targeting returning adults and high school students

The University of Hawaii Maui College is looking for ways to boost enrollment by two groups that show promise as potential students: returning adult students between the ages of 25 to 44 and high schoolers who want to enroll early.

This semester, 397 returning students — most between 25 and 44 — enrolled in college classes, a 39.3 percent increase over last fall’s enrollment of 285 returning students, according to UH-MC data. Meanwhile, enrollment for high school students in the Early Admit program dropped 9.5 percent, from 348 to 315 students as of Sept. 21. But overall interest in the program has been growing, and with a statewide push to get more low-income students ready for college, UH-MC is turning its efforts toward high schoolers as well as working adults.

“Those are the two major things that we’re going to focus on in the coming spring and the next few years,” marketing director Kit Zulueta said Tuesday.

Zulueta was discussing enrollment trends after the University of Hawaii released a report Tuesday on fall enrollment at all 10 of its campuses. Overall, this year’s fall enrollment within the UH system dropped to 51,674 students. That’s a decrease of 1,746 students, or 3.3 percent, compared to the same time last year.

Only UH-West Oahu saw an increase, climbing 4.9 percent to 3,082 students. Among the eight campuses where enrollment decreased, Honolulu Community College went down the most, falling 8.7 percent to 3,563 students. Meanwhile, UH-MC had the smallest decrease, dropping 1.2 percent to 3,302 students. (Windward Community College saw no change.)

In August, UH-MC reported that its student body grew to 3,318. But with the fall semester in full swing and some students having dropped out following the first weeks of classes, the numbers are evening out — though they still change daily, Zulueta said.

In its report, UH attributed the decreasing enrollment to positive factors: improving graduation rates, as well as a strong labor market that draws workers away from the community colleges.

“The strong economy has certainly pulled students out of the community colleges,” said John Morton, vice chancellor for community colleges. “We are working to be sure we provide a way for those students to complete their college degrees while working, as well as the many other students who have college credits left but no degree.”

Zulueta said that seems to be the case at UH-MC. At a recent job fair in September, employers commented that fairs had been busier back in years when unemployment was high. In Maui County, the unemployment rate has been steadily falling since it reached 8.7 percent in 2009 during the Great Recession. In August, the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations reported the county’s unemployment rate at 2.5 percent, down from 3.1 percent in August 2016.

However, a strong labor market also could explain why more adults over the age of 25 seem to be coming back to school, Zulueta said.

“Maybe our economy is getting a little bit better, so some of them are considering a higher education to advance in their careers,” Zulueta said.

There are many who might be in that position: According to the 2016 State of Hawaii Data Book, 95,275 of Hawaii’s 25- to 44-year-olds have some college but no degree, a larger group than the 91,699 who do have a bachelor’s degree.

At UH-MC, returning student enrollment has gone from 348 in 2014, to 328 in 2015 and 285 in 2016, before climbing back up this year. As for the Early Admit program, the numbers have been rising overall, from 152 in 2014, to 235 in 2015 and 347 in 2016, before the slight drop this year.

In general, UH-MC’s total enrollment has been dropping every year since it hit 4,076 in fall 2013. Zulueta said the college is trying to bring up its enrollment by focusing on those two demographic groups, as well as developing the college’s international program.

For example, UH-MC’s Degree-in-3 Program offers a flexible schedule — day, evening or online classes — geared toward working adults, allowing them to get a degree in three years. EdVenture is another program that provides continuing education, career training and professional development.

The college also recently started offering applications for an all-expense-paid, two-week study abroad program to the Philippines next summer, a pilot program open to returning students or high school seniors enrolled in spring classes. Zulueta explained that a third of the student population tends to drop in the spring, and offering new programs is one way to improve retention.

Before the school year started, UH-MC staff phoned individual students to make sure they had enrolled in classes and to see whether they needed financial aid. In the past, the practice was to automatically drop students if they didn’t pay their fees by a certain date, Zulueta said.

Zulueta said those wanting to know more about the study abroad program or college classes can visit UH-MC’s booth at the Maui Fair, under the “Products and Services” tent in front of the War Memorial Gym.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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