KAHULUI >> Maui Community College’s name change to University of Hawaii Maui College was one sign of its far-reaching ambitions.
No longer simply MCC, the school shed its junior college status in an effort to better compete with four-year universities as a school where students can earn a baccalaureate degree.
With about 4,400 students, enrollment at the Maui campus exceeds the populations at UH’s neighbor island colleges, including UH-Hilo.
And UH Maui College is the only UH community college that offers its own four-year degrees alongside the more typical associate’s degrees and vocational certificates.
The name change — approved in 2010 by UH and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges — speaks to the college’s commitment to adapt to the needs of Maui County residents, said longtime Chancellor Clyde Sakamoto, who helped push for the change.
"It wasn’t that simple," Sakamoto, 70, said. "But it really had to do with offering students and residents opportunities to access higher-compensating jobs in the community. Having a bachelor’s degree makes them eligible to compete."
"What we were seeing for some time, especially in the area of tech, was that higher-paying jobs were going to candidates outside Maui County and Hawaii," he said. "We knew we had to create the kinds of programs that would help our residents be responsive to those opportunities."
The college designed three baccalaureate degree programs that it says were developed in direct response to Maui’s workforce needs.
|560: Earned degrees at the University of Hawaii Maui College on June 30:
161 Liberal arts
101 Business education
68 Culinary arts
42 Public services
Source: Banner Operational Data Store
The initial four-year degree program, a bachelor of applied science in applied business and information technology, graduated its first class of three students in 2007. The program has an entrepreneurial focus.
Bachelor’s degrees in engineering technology and sustainable science management have since been added, and 44 students are currently pursuing one of the three degrees.
Throughout the change, the college has kept the general community college standards of low tuition and open admissions while filling an academic niche. For example, tuition is significantly cheaper on Maui than at UH’s traditional four-year campuses.
Resident tuition at UH Maui College this semester is $106 per credit and $258 per credit for upper-division courses in the baccalaureate programs. That compares with resident tuition at UH’s flagship Manoa campus of $381 per credit for undergraduate programs.
Beyond tuition revenue, the school also attracts valuable research grants and other spending that helps generate economic benefits for Maui and the state.
The campus pumps more than $85 million annually into the local economy, according to a study this year by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization. It said UH Maui College is also responsible for more than 700 direct and indirect jobs.
"We’re not a huge campus, but we’re wanting to be fairly aggressive in seeking out additional resources," said Sakamoto, who has led the school since 1990. "I’m proud that we’ve developed a strong infrastructure for higher education so that UH Maui College is positioned to make these kinds of contributions to the county and state’s future."
UH Maui College has seen its enrollment increase by nearly 50 percent over the past five years, and boasts the highest enrollment of all UH neighbor island colleges.
The school’s culinary arts program in particular has helped attract students, with 180 students currently majoring in the program.
"We were bursting out of our seams before moving into our new facility in 2003," said Chris Speere, external program coordinator for the Maui Culinary Academy.
The academy went from 3,600 square feet of learning space to a 38,000-square-foot facility that also handles the dining needs of the entire campus.
"We see such a diverse group of students, from kids just out of high school, retirees, some students with advanced degrees," Speere said. "It’s a good time because the dining public is very aware and demanding."
The program got a big confidence boost last year when OpenTable, an online restaurant reservations service, ranked its restaurant — The Leis Family Class Act Restaurant — No. 1 on its list of best overall restaurants in Hawaii. (Popular Paia eatery Mama’s Fish House came in second place.) The fine-dining Leis Family Class Act Restaurant is run by culinary students in their final year of the program.
Growth in other programs also has prompted expansion of the college’s physical presence.
The campus this year dedicated a $26 million science facility called ‘Ike Le‘a, outfitted with modern laboratory and classroom spaces to house the school’s STEM Department (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
UH Maui College also plans to renovate a former student housing site and build the Hospitality Academy of Maui, an "educational and training hotel" that the school says will integrate courses with hands-on job experience for students. The goal is to better educate and train students for management-level positions.
UH Maui College is also looking to expand its Food Innovation Center. The program acts as a food business incubator, providing space and equipment to local farmers and ranchers for research, development and small-scale production of value-added food products.
The innovation center has already received $1.2 million in state funds to design and build a new facility on campus.
UH Maui College’s dental program also will expand under plans that call for renovating an existing building to house the college’s oral health center, to be named the Daniel K. Inouye Allied Health Center.
"I think what makes us unique is that we have an extra community connection," Sakamoto said. "The mayors and county councils throughout the years, Maui legislators and at the federal level, Sen. Inouye, have always supported our initiatives. And I think it’s because the college always seeks to make a contribution to the overall health and well-being of Maui County."