KAHULUI - Enrollment at the University of Hawaii Maui College is down about 1.9 percent, but an official said Wednesday that those numbers could rise as students continue to register for the fall semester.
Alvin Tagomori, vice chancellor of student affairs, said 4,076 students are enrolled for the fall semester, which begins Monday. The number of students is slightly lower than the 4,155 enrolled at the same time last year.
Officially, UH-MC saw its highest enrollment last fall, with 4,527 students, a record for the college, Tagomori said.
University of Hawaii Maui College student Emma Landgraf of Wailuku leaves the college’s bookstore with her supplies and books for the upcoming fall semester, which begins Monday. The 25-year-old computer electronics major said she was excited for the school year to begin next week.
The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo
"Given at this point we're only 1.9 percent off of last year's pace, there's a chance we . . . can match last year's record or come close to it," he said.
Tagomori said "it's hard to say" why enrollment is slightly down, but it could have something to do with the economy creeping back, with recovery ongoing in the island's visitor industry.
Unemployed residents had enrolled in the college during the economic slump.
"There are pockets that are doing better economically. That's probably what is contributing to the slight drop I think at this point," Tagomori said.
But he added that the college usually has several hundred students who register late, and students do have a chance to add and drop classes for a full refund through Aug. 24.
He said official enrollment numbers will be tallied in September.
The college has been enjoying steady enrollment increases, but the recession in 2008 exploded growth, college officials have said. For fall semester 2009, the then-Maui Community College enrollment skyrocketed 26 percent. An official said last year that the increases had leveled, but growth continues at a higher pace than before the recession. The college has also said new students could have been lured to the college with upgrades to the college's curriculum and facilities.
Tagomori said it "speaks well to the residents of this island" who enroll in college when they are unemployed or underemployed.
He said he is impressed by those who want to improve their job skills to position themselves for good positions when the economy improves further.
This past spring, the college had an enrollment of 4,307. Tagomori said typically there are more students in the fall because that's when the high school graduates enter college.
Also new this school year is a slight tuition hike.
But, so far, Tagomori said, he hasn't heard of any complaints about the increase. This semester, residents are seeing a $4 increase per credit, from $97 last school year to $101 per credit this school year.
Tagomori said that, over the years, the school has also seen more federal Pell Grants being awarded to its students.
In 2006-07, $1.7 million in Pell Grants were awarded to students at the college. Last school year, that number jumped to $4 million. The grants are awarded based on need and to students who perform well, Tagomori said.
Students coming back to campus also will see ongoing work on the school's new $21.6 million science building, which is expected be operational next spring.
"We're thrilled with the anticipated completion of the new science building this fall, which will give our growing science and technology departments dedicated teaching laboratories for fields like astronomy, optics, microbiology and marine sciences," said University of Hawaii Maui College Chancellor Clyde Sakamoto, in a written statement.
When completed, the 28,000-square-foot building on the Wailuku side of the campus will house teaching labs and classes.
The roof already is outfitted with photovoltaic cells and has small wind turbines erected for generating power.
The building will have a living green roof, where students can go and where grass will grow around the top of a light tube that will provide natural illumination for classrooms below.
A state-of-the-art amphitheater will have seating for 120.
When completed, the building will be certifiable as a "green structure" by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
On Wednesday, Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced the release of more than $92 million for priority capital improvement projects throughout the University of Hawaii system. Of that amount, $11.3 million is for community colleges, college officials said.
Maui has five projects that will likely be funded out of the allotment. Those projects include air conditioning repairs, reroofing and repainting projects.
In spring 2013, UH-MC will offer an associate of arts degree in Hawaiian studies, a new program based on the college's successful Hawaiian studies courses, Sakamoto said.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for all students to learn more about Hawaii's rich cultural heritage, and is part of the university's strategic commitment to Native Hawaiians and Native Hawaiian culture," he added.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.