UH-Maui College fall enrollment down 6.4 percent

University of Hawaii Maui College fall enrollment fell 6.4 percent from last year to about 3,100 students, the second largest percentage drop in the 10-campus University of Hawaii system.

The 3,092 students enrolled this fall are 210 students fewer than the 3,302 students who signed up for classes last fall, the University of Hawaii reported Wednesday.

The entire University of Hawaii system enrollment was down too, declining 1.2 percent to 51,063 students compared to fall 2017, the report said. In fact, only three campuses, UH-Manoa (up 0.6 percent to 17,710 students), UH-West Oahu (up 1.5 percent, 3,128 students) and Kauai Community College (up 10.4 percent, 1,486 students) reported gains.

But UH-Maui College’s percentage decline only was surpassed by Hawaii Community College, which saw a 6.6 percent decline to 2,623 students.

Enrollments also were down throughout the community college system, despite the Kauai campus success story, off 2.3 percent to 26,819 students.

The biggest competitor for community colleges continues to be the strong labor market and record low unemployment, the report said.

“We will continue to work to get more people, including returning adults and other nontraditional students, into our community colleges,” said UH President David Lassner. “We need to make sure that people can pursue their education to advance in their careers while they work.”

He noted that the new Hawai’i Promise program helps remove the cost of tuition as a barrier to a community college education in the state. The Hawai’i Promise Scholarship is available to all qualified students with need and covers the unmet costs of tuition, fees, books and supplies.

UH-Maui College Chancellor Lui Hokoana said Wednesday that the decrease was expected, but “we’re concerned about the decrease in enrollment for sure.”

The decline has led UH-Maui College officials to look closely at recruitment efforts, and they found that Early College program students are increasing, and the graduation rate is rising, he said.

The Early College program allows high school students to earn college credits. The program was one of the reasons cited by Kauai Community College Chancellor Helen Cox for her campus’ large growth.

This is a far cry from the days during the midst of the Great Recession and high unemployment when UH-Maui College’s enrollment peaked at a record high of 4,527 students in 2011.

“With a strong labor market, higher cost of living and decrease in unemployment, we’re addressing an opportunity to adjust our programs to accommodate those who want to pursue a degree while they work,” Hokoana said.

Almost half of high school graduates in Maui County are absorbed by the workforce, he said.

From the students’ point of view, they can make money immediately, said UH-Maui College spokeswoman Kit Zulueta, “so our strategy is to address that — make it more convenient for the workforce.”

This includes boosting online class offerings and short-term courses “so they can continue education while working,” she said.

Hokoana said that for less than $400, a student can take three credits online per semester and work toward a degree.

“We want to show that it’s doable, and the resources we offer to students are remarkable,” he said.

The goal also is to be ready for those students in the workforce who realize that they need a degree for advancement and higher pay, Zulueta said.

“That’s what we try to remind them,” she said. “Take convenient online classes while you work so you can multitask.”

UH-Maui College noncredit programs are gaining in popularity, growing 19 percent this year, Hokoana said.

“This tells us that there is still a need for training and skills upgrading in a brisk job market,” he said. “Our workforce needs it quickly rather than over a 16-week semester.”

“We continue to fulfill our mission for Maui County through these different types of modalities and find more creative ways to recruit potential students,” he said.

Despite declines throughout the UH system, the report noted that the contraction of the enrollment was the smallest in the six years following the Great Recession, when UH hit record high enrollment.

UH-Manoa’s student totals were boosted by a record-setting incoming freshman class. It was the first increase in enrollment at the UH system’s flagship campus in five years.

“We continue to head in the right direction,” said Lassner. “We have made great strides at UH-Manoa, and Kauai CC is another success story this year. However, there remains a challenge with the strong economy, particularly at our community colleges.

“Hawaii needs a more educated workforce and citizenry, and we have to get more students enrolled, keep them in school and graduate them on time.”

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

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