Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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UH enrollment hits record

Community colleges are driving increases while the Manoa campus' numbers drop

By Dan Nakaso


Enrollment dipped at the University of Hawaii's flagship Manoa campus this fall but increased at the nine other UH campuses, pushing overall fall enrollment to a record high of 60,231 students, for a 3.6 percent increase over last year's previous record.

In a sign of Hawaii's stagnant economy and students' desire to educate themselves and gain new skills at cheaper UH campuses, the system's seven community colleges combined to drive their enrollment up by 6.4 percent from last fall.

Hawaii Community College led the way with a 16.1 percent gain, followed by Windward Community College at 14.4 percent; Kauai Community College, 7.3 percent; UH Maui College, 6.5 percent; Leeward Community College, 5.4 percent; Honolulu Community College, 4.1 percent; and Kapiolani Community College, 2.6 percent.

At Honolulu Community College yesterday, several students said they are simultaneously enrolled at Manoa but find it cheaper to take courses at HCC. Some HCC students who cannot get necessary classes at either HCC or Manoa also said they simultaneously take online courses at other UH campuses.

"We call it 'swirling' and it's a national phenomenon," said Linda Johnsrud, UH vice president for academic planning and policy. "It's not a straight line anymore where students go straight through at one campus. With the increased ability to transfer courses throughout the system and the difference in tuition, students are savvy. We have more students starting their academic careers at the CCs with the intent of transferring to any of the three four-year campuses."

Azurae Burdett, 21, is taking four HCC classes this semester that each cost $88 per credit. The single course that Burdett takes at Manoa costs $316 per credit.

Burdett was working yesterday as an oceanography intern in an HCC urban agriculture project that uses reclaimed shrimp tank water to nurture Japanese cucumbers, corn, lettuce and tomatoes.

Tending the crops, Burdett said, "For the cost of one class at Manoa, I can take four classes here (at HCC). You get your money's worth at HCC, and the professors are awesome."

Joewill Schagen, 18, graduated last spring from Farrington High School and enrolled at HCC for a simple reason:

"It's a lot cheaper than Manoa," she said. "At Manoa it's just a lot bigger and a lot more expensive."

Yesterday, Schagen built a metal tool tray in Danny Aiu's HCC sheet metal class. Almost all of Aiu's courses are filled to capacity.

As his students banged away on their projects and bent them into shape, Aiu said many of his classes are full of students preparing for a rebound in the trades industries.

"If you look at the economy, it's tough," Aiu said. "My classes are full because of the economy."

Palmer Ahakuelo, 53, enrolled when she was laid off last year from her job as a Waikiki maintenance supervisor.

"There's no work out there," Ahakuelo said. "We've got to get back to work."

Ahakuelo started her third semester at HCC this fall, en route to a possible two-year applied trades degree or perhaps a four-year degree from Manoa.

But the difference in cost between courses at HCC and Manoa, Ahakuelo said, "is a big gap."

Manoa had 223 fewer students this fall for a total enrollment of 20,137, which represents a 1.1 percent drop from last year.

At the same time, UH's community colleges as a group grew by 2,069 students, for a combined enrollment of 34,515.

UH-West Oahu added 139 students this semester for a total enrollment of 1,494, a 10.3 percent increase. UH-Hilo's enrollment increased by 89 students for a total enrollment of 4,085, a 2.2 percent increase.

"Surpassing 4,000 (students) is noteworthy as a milestone of progress," UH-Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney said in a statement.

Johnsrud said she expects that Manoa's enrollment will jump when community college students move over to finish their four-year degrees.

"When those transfers start coming in," she said, "Manoa's going to see that increase in the next couple of years."

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