The University of Hawaii Board of Regents voted Thursday to hold tuition flat across the 10-campus system for the 2017-18 academic year, a move that will delay the administration’s plans to begin upgrading campus facilities.
The university had been seeking approval for a three-year tuition schedule, first announced in February, that would have raised undergraduate tuition at the flagship Manoa campus annually by 2 percent, or $216 a year, beginning in fall 2017. The schedule proposed raising tuition at all other campuses by 1 to
2 percent the following two years.
The revenue generated by the increases would have been used to float revenue bonds to pay for sorely needed campus improvements and indirectly help reduce the university’s growing repair and maintenance backlog, which now stands at $503 million.
Kalbert Young, chief financial officer for the UH system, likened the bonds to a mortgage, where the university would have been able to secure roughly $35 million in revenue bonds for annual payments of $2.36 million over 30 years. (The
$2.36 million figure is the amount UH projected it would see from a 2 percent tuition increase at Manoa.)
Over the recommended three-year tuition schedule, UH estimated it could sell $100 million worth of bonds to make campus improvements.
But UH President David Lassner changed course Thursday and proposed eliminating the first year of increases at Manoa, consistent with what was proposed for the other nine campuses. He acknowledged criticism from testifiers 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,” he said.
The regents voted 13-1 to accept Lassner’s amendment Thursday while also approving the systemwide increases built into the last two years of the plan. Regent Jeffrey Portnoy cast the lone opposing vote.
“I don’t think we should be putting on the backs of students a problem which they had nothing to do with, which is decades of a failure on the part of the institution and the state Legislature to address maintenance,” Portnoy said. “If the university requires a tuition increase, that’s one thing … but to designate it for something that the Legislature fails to understand is its responsibility is to give them a pass.”
University officials say the repair backlog, which dates back more than a decade, continues to grow because the university hasn’t received sufficient support from the state in past years. The university needs
$60 million to $80 million annually for what’s known as
capital renewal, or basic facilities maintenance. It typically has received half that amount, leaving little to nothing for deferred maintenance and upgrades.
“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.
Young, the chief financial officer, said the decision to postpone the tuition increases will push back the university’s plans to sell revenue bonds for the facilities work.
“The strategy has multiple parts. Tuition is the first thing,” he said. “Without that change, the assumption is there will not be more revenue for the university for 2017-18. … Delaying this one year basically just bumps it another year.”
Although the university presented its proposal at 13 community public meetings between March and May, some students believe there wasn’t enough outreach.
As of 9 a.m. Thursday, when the regents began their monthly meeting, 139 individuals had submitted written testimony opposing 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,” 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 to help pay for college, and students graduate with a median federal loan debt of $19,509, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Undergraduate students make up nearly three-fourths of Manoa’s student body of 19,000 students.
Tuition for full-time Manoa graduate students would also go up under the approved schedule — by $312 a year — but no increases are recommended for professional schools, including the business, education, nursing, law and medical graduate programs. Still, Amy McKee, president of the Graduate Student Organization, said the increases would affect about 4,000 graduate students.
“Funding for just the buildings should come from the state, or there should be other revenue streams to fund that,” said McKee, a master’s candidate in the educational administration program. “Tuition should really be used for faculty salaries and go toward things that would benefit the student experience, like scholarships and programs.”
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.
Jan Sullivan, who was elected Thursday as chairwoman of the board, noted that UH has increased tuition for at least 12 consecutive years. Last summer the board scaled back the increases built into the final two years of the current tuition schedule to keep tuition affordable.