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Hawaii Community College set to expand next year

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KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii >> New Hawaii Community College buildings are expected to be finished in Kailua-Kona next year. 

University of Hawaii officials are calling the $25 million Palamanui complex a gateway center, West Hawaii Today reported. Students may use it to take courses from across the university system, many by teleconference.

Retired professor Sandra Scarr told a community forum Tuesday that twice as many high school graduates from East Hawaii enter the University of Hawaii system than students from the Big Island’s west side.

The great distance to college and university facilities discourages many in West Hawaii, she said.

Scarr called for Palamanui to develop its own unique programs and become autonomous from Hawaii Community College in Hilo. 

Programs that could be symbiotic with West Hawaii businesses include hospitality management, marine science, aquaculture technology and marine technology, where boat and engine repair could be learned, she said.

“People are being imported from all over the country to do these jobs because we don’t train our own people to do them,” Scarr said.

As long as the center is controlled from Hilo, it will not get the growth the community wants, said Walter Kunitake, who was first director of the University of Hawaii Center, West Hawaii.

“We are not being unreasonable here, we are talking about basic education for West Hawaii,” he said. 

Kenneth Fletcher, director of the University of Hawaii Center, West Hawaii, said Palamanui will have an opportunity to create new programs. He said Hawaii Community College Chancellor Noreen Yamane supports such innovations. 

Palamanui is exploring opportunities in areas like energy production, innovative and sustainable agriculture and water and resource management, Fletcher said.

Increasingly, students aren’t full-time, he said. Many students are also taking courses online. 

“There are not that many people in West Hawaii who can drop everything and become a four-year student. I think we need to question our assumptions sometimes,” he said. 

University of Hawaii Board of Regents member Pete Hoffmann said President David Lassner will visit next month to hear about West Hawaii’s higher education issues.

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