The University of Hawaii Board of Regents today voted to hold tuition flat across the 10-campus system for the 2017-18 academic year, delaying the administration’s plans to begin improving campus facilities.
The university had been seeking approval for a three-year tuition schedule that would have raised undergraduate tuition at the flagship Manoa campus annually by 2 percent, or $216 a year, and by 1 percent to 2 percent the following two years at all other campuses. Under that plan, the revenue generated by the increases would have been used to float revenue bonds to pay for sorely needed campus upgrades and indirectly help reduce the university’s growing repair and maintenance backlog.
The regents voted to accept a last-minute amendment from UH President David Lassner to eliminate the first year of increases at Manoa, consistent with what was proposed for the other nine campuses. The systemwide increases built into the last two years of the plan were approved by a 13-1 vote, with regent Jeff Portnoy casting the lone opposing vote.
Lassner said that the university has not received enough state funding in past years to address both basic facility needs and its repair backlog, which now sits at $503 million.
“This isn’t something we’re going to fix with one strategy. It’s developed over decades and there’s no silver bullet and we are looking at a long-term problem to eliminate not just the deferred maintenance backlog but to modernize the facilities,” Lassner said.
He acknowledged criticisms that the university should be looking to more strategically expend existing resources before raising tuition.
“While I absolutely believe that tuition must be part of how we address modernization and the deferred maintenance backlog, it’s also clear it’s not the whole story,” Lassner said before proposing to eliminate the tuition increase at Manoa in the first year of the plan.
As of 9 a.m., when the board began its monthly meeting, 139 individuals had submitted written testimony against the tuition increases. Eight students — including the heads of the student government groups representing undergraduate and graduate students — testified in person against the increases, with many of them citing concerns about financial hardship and long-term debt for future students.
“From a college student’s perspective, every quarter, every dime, every nickel, every penny counts. Every penny counts,” said Roxie-Anne Kamoshida, president of the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “On behalf of ASUH and the student body, we ask that you do not approve this tuition proposal and urge that more research take place before placing this financial debt on the backs of students.”
At UH Manoa, where annual full-time tuition is $10,872 for the 2016-17 academic year, 38 percent of undergraduates have taken out federal loans at help pay for college, and students graduate with a median federal loan debt of $19,509, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Kamoshida, who is studying plant and environmental protection sciences, said afterward that the one-year delay will give her group time to gather more student voices in opposition to the remaining planned increases.
“I’m a little relieved that this is deferred for a year. That gives the student body and ASUH time to lobby, because students in general do not want this increase,” she said.
She acknowledged that campus facilities are in need of upgrades, but said “we do not think it should be put on the backs of students.”