The creation of University of Hawaii Maui College is more than a name change.
It's a step in an ongoing process to expand educational opportunities in Maui County. How much further the process goes may be a matter of leadership.
In approving the name change, the University of Hawaii Board of Regents on Feb. 18 approved the process that represents a hybridization of two goals of higher education - training in technical skills that prepare a student to contribute to the economy and training in academic skills that prepare a student to contribute to society.
Sectors at the University of Hawaii-Manoa campus still have difficulty accepting that hybridization, with a mindset that continues to separate University of Hawaii at Hilo from the Hawaii Community College that shares the campus.
It took more than 20 years from the time Maui Community College first was allowed to offer liberal arts credit courses for the Manoa campus hierarchy to accept articulation of those course credits - allowing credits earned at the outlying community college campuses to transfer to Manoa's four-year degree programs.
In the process, Maui Community College took a lead role in developing distance-learning opportunities, providing classes to students in outlying districts while utilizing interactive cable television links initially and now Internet connections. MCC's Skybridge provided the template for the statewide HITS. It was leadership of necessity, given MCC's mandate to provide higher education opportunities to all students in Maui County - including those in remote communities of Hana, Lanai and Molokai.
Chancellor Clyde Sakamoto probably will never be given enough credit for bringing the college to this stage of extended and expanded educational opportunities in Maui Nui.
In addition to bachelor's degrees offered through other UH campuses, UH-Maui College offers two bachelor's degrees in applied sciences tailored to meet needs identified by technology businesses on Maui while complying with standards of the national accreditation commission that is monitoring the college's performance.
Welcoming the upgrade in the name of the college, Sakamoto makes clear that will not change access to the college.
"Our commitment to the open admissions philosophy will continue. We will continue to develop two- and four-year programs and educational opportunities in response to the changing work force needs of our county, state and region," he says.
To the extent UH-Maui College succeeds, it will be counterpoint to an ongoing refrain devaluing education at community colleges and small colleges in general.
An educational analyst, Kevin Carey, policy director of Education Sector (www.educationsector.org), berates the tendency of consumers of education to buy into the mythology of university reputation.
"The customers, donors and government that finance America's allegedly world-beating institutions know remarkably little about whether individual colleges and universities are any good at the single most important thing they do: helping students learn," he charges ("That Old College Lie," democracyjournal.org).
Carey may be correct in his argument that mere reputation allows elite universities to charge more for their services. But he offers no evidence of his further claim that nonelite campuses reside in "a sea of mediocrity or worse."
Evidence of educational quality is in outcomes, how the college graduate performs in the work environment for which the student trained. UH-Maui College Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Suzette Robinson says the college scores high in surveys of student engagement and regularly evaluates teaching effectiveness.
"Our programs have advisory boards made up of local employers who have an interest in making sure students who graduate are able to meet industry needs," she says.
A college meeting the needs of its community would seem to be providing educational quality.
* Edwin Tanji is a former city editor of The Maui News. He can be reached at email@example.com. "Haku Mo'olelo," "writing stories," is about stories that are being written or have been written. It appears every Friday.