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Lava could impact college enrollments

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HILO, Hawaii >> As lower Puna girds itself for the possibility that lava could soon cross Highway 130, the University of Hawaii is preparing to help affected students.

When the main artery through the region is severed, the ability of students, faculty and staff to commute to and from UH-Hilo and Hawaii Community College campuses in East Hawaii will be severely impacted, said Jerry Chang, UH-Hilo’s director of university relations.

The campus’ fall commencement took place last weekend, so students dropping out might not be as much of a concern as new enrollments, he said.

“We’re worried about that,” he said. “Some of the people who live out there may not be able to get in within a few weeks or so, so there is a chance we may lose some students from that area.”

Enrollment losses at UH-Hilo could potentially total “a few dozen,” Chang said.

The school identified 153 students who live in lower Puna that could be impacted. Meanwhile, Hawaii Community College counts 622 students living in areas that could be affected.

A total of six faculty members at HCC responded to a survey saying they could be affected by the lava, and a map made by officials at UH-Hilo shows dozens of faculty, staff, instructors and lecturers live in the Pahoa area.

The two campuses created a joint information page at hilo.hawaii.edu/puna-lava-flow to provide resources for students and employees to keep abreast of the lava activity and how they are working to minimize its impacts on students.

UH-Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney and HCC Chancellor Noreen Yamane have provided weekly informational messages to employees and students, and have worked to identify support services for those impacted by the lava, according to HCC spokesman Thatcher Moats, including:

— Counseling services.

— Assistance with changing registration whenever possible.

— Identifying on-campus and off-campus resources.

— Allowed withdrawal from class, and where possible provided refunds even after the withdrawal deadline passed.

— Assistance with admissions and financial aid upon re-entry.

— Faculty and staff have been available and will continue to address questions and concerns at lava community informational meetings.

Those people concerned about access to classes have been asked to contact instructors, department chiefs or supervisors.

“The campuses will work with students and employees on an individual basis,” Moats said.

HCC and UH-Hilo also have worked to find high-speed Internet access points in lower Puna so students could potentially use them to keep up with classwork.

In October, both campuses hosted four counseling sessions for their employees.

“The sessions covered expectations pertaining to grief and traumatic loss, as well as some recommendations for survivors of traumatic events, including the impact on personal, family and work life,” Moats wrote in an email. “There also was discussion about the signs and symptoms of stress, along with suggestions to ease the stress. There is also counseling services available to students.

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