Nearly everything in Hawaii gets more expensive from one year to the next — but the cost to get a degree from the state’s higher-educational system could become a rare exception to that rule if the University of Hawaii administration has its way.
The UH administration is seeking to increase
affordability, improve price competitiveness and
reverse enrollment declines by instituting a tuition decrease that would apply to nearly all students at the 10-campus system for this academic year and then freeze those lowered rates through 2023.
UH President David Lassner said the request, which is unprecedented, would provide most UH students and their families with a flat tuition rate for five consecutive years, including 2018-19.
The proposed tuition schedule goes before the University of Hawaii Board of Regents on Thursday at its meeting at UH West Oahu.
The largest decrease — 10 percent, or $3,739 — has been proposed for graduate nonresidents at the University of Hawaii at
Manoa, who would now pay $33,653. Nonresident undergrads at UH Manoa would see a 2 percent reduction of $667 for a $32,669 rate.
Under the proposal UH-Manoa resident students would see a
2 percent decrease. That would shave $312 off the resident graduate tuition, which would decline
to $15,600, and $216 off the undergraduate tuition, which would drop to $11,088.
A 1 percent reduction has been recommended for UH Hilo, UH West Oahu and UH community
colleges’ upper divisions. Resident undergraduates at these schools would see a reduction of $72 for a $7,272 tuition, and nonresidents would save $203, bringing tuition to $20,101. UH-Hilo graduate students who are residents would pay $11,616, or $120 less. UH-Hilo nonresident graduate students would pay $26,302, or $266 less.
UH community college lower-
division students would save $60, bringing the resident tuition to $3,084 and the nonresident cost to $8,220.
Emilygrace Ka‘aiakamanu, a UH-Manoa graduate student from Hawaii who is pursuing a social work degree, hopes the proposal is approved because tuition increases have hit her and other students hard over the last several years.
“Tuition is really high, and it
had been going up by $500 to $1,000 every year. Books and other fees like parking are really expensive. All the expenses really add up, and it’s hard to graduate in four years. That’s really tough on local kids,” Ka‘aiakamanu said. “Even if you work full time, it’s hard for an undergraduate to pay for rent and survive the cost of
living on top of paying tuition.”
Lassner said past tuition increases, which were passed to pay for deferred maintenance and modernization, correlate to a reduction in enrollment. From the fall of 2013 to the fall of 2018, enrollment of graduate students at UH Manoa declined by 11 percent for residents and 19 percent for nonresidents. During the same
period, undergraduates paying nonresident tuition decreased by 32 percent; however, participation in the cost-saving Western Undergraduate Exchange enrollment program has increased by
If approved, the decrease and freeze will be “one of the more aggressive, multiyear commitments to affordability that we’ve seen anywhere in the country,” Lassner said.
The new proposal follows a
2016 tuition hike that increased
tuition 1 to 2 percent in the 2017-2018 and 2019-2020 academic years. The increase, which followed some reductions and was vetted during public meetings statewide, was passed in part
so that UH leadership could
whittle down hundreds of
millions in deferred maintenance. The money raised through that
increase was to be used for
projects that modernize student spaces, classrooms and
UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said, “While UH proposed increases to face the expected shortfall in state revenues, state revenues did not fall as much as expected and there was a great concern about affordability for
The earlier hikes also had unintended consequences, which university administrators are seeking to fix through a relatively rare tuition rollback and freeze. Lassner said the move, which would stop
a previously approved 2019 hike, will improve affordability and
increase UH’s competitiveness in recruiting mainland and international students.
UH Manoa’s resident undergraduate tuition for the 2018-2019 academic year was $11,970 compared with the $11,207 U.S. median for flagship institutions. During the same period there was an ever greater spread between UH-Manoa nonresident undergraduate tuition, which was $34,002, and the U.S. median for flagship institutions, which was $30,862.
The gap was greatest at the graduate level, where UH Manoa’s resident tuition was $16,502 compared with a median of $12,212 among U.S. flagship institutions. Nonresident graduate students
at UH Manoa paid $37,982 compared with a median of $28,335 among U.S. flagship institutions.
Lassner said the cost of UH’s tuition proposal is expected to to be offset by enrollment increases, especially from the higher-spending nonresident student population. It’s also the right thing to do for students and the community, he said.
“Bringing in a robust and diverse student body improves the educational experience for residents, especially those who might not have lived anywhere else,” Lassner said.
It also benefits UH’s budget since nonresident students tend
to pay a larger percentage of their educational costs, he said. And, it’s good for the state’s economy, which realizes gains from nonresident expenditures like rent and shopping.
Nanae Sajiki, an undergraduate student from Japan who is majoring in theater at UH Manoa, said a tuition reduction could lead to a broader student population.
“The island has diversity of people. Globalization is progressing,” Sajiki said. “But if the university decreases tuition, it would make it easier for international students to to come here and experience the diversity.”