UH should expand grants, mental-health aid
The University of Hawaii, like every other state institution, is preparing its annual legislative request.
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The University of Hawaii, like every other state institution, is preparing its annual legislative request. Its administrators, veterans of the push and pull over limited taxpayer money each year, have decided to tailor its bid for funds that are clearly directed at student education and services, and toward community benefits UH can provide.
This is a reasoned approach, one that should draw at least some funds in what is sure to be a competitive session for “supplemental” appropriations. The idea, said UH President David Lassner, is to propose investments that have yield for the public that is underwriting them.
And three top bullet points from the request do seem to be correctly focused: making college more affordable; educating doctors for practices on the neighbor islands, which are seriously underserved; and raising the sub-par capacity for mental-health services to students.
The big-ticket item is for a boost in funding —
$17.7 million, which would be a recurring annual cost — aimed at bringing more students through the front gate of the UH system’s three four-year campuses.
The Hawai‘i Promise scholarship program, if expanded as the university intends beyond its community colleges, can help students over the financial hurdles of college, which tick higher each year.
The Legislature initiated the Hawai‘i Promise scholarship program in 2017. For students enrolling in the UH community college system, it covered at least part of the cost incurred in completing two-year associate’s degrees. The ask was for $2.5 million to launch the initial program.
UH went in last session seeking an expansion to the Manoa, Hilo and West Oahu campuses, a biennial bid for nearly $40 million. The sticker shock was part of what caused it to stall in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Lassner said — that, and the lawmakers’ insistence on seeing more evidence that the program bore fruit at the community-college level.
This year the request is trimmed back a bit, and Lassner said he has data supporting the Promise effectiveness with its grant recipients, who have enrolled in about 50% more credits per semester and have earned higher grades.
The funding request is estimated to cover the needs of 5,000 students across the three campuses, paying the tuition and fees balance of what student Pell grants don’t cover. Lassner said the annual $17.7 million line item would bring UH more in line with the outlay in general funds other states give to public university scholarship programs.
On another front: It should not be a tough sell to secure yearly funds for the $2.65 million UH needs to hire 19 more psychologists. That’s what it will take to bring UH to even the low end of the national standard: 1 professional per 1,500 students. The ratio now stands at roughly 1 per 3,000, said Allyson Tanouye, director of the UH Manoa Counseling and Student Development Center.
Further, staffing at UH-Manoa hasn’t substantially changed since 1991, she said, and the cases have increased in demand and intensity since then.
Finally, the $1.4 million for physician training on Maui would be a worthy commitment. This is a pilot program to create training opportunities and residencies for new doctors studying at UH. Providing a hands-on experience on Maui will enhance the chance that doctors will remain there for a longer-term practice and, in any case, will bring clinical care to where it’s needed.
Certainly lawmakers have to weigh more requests than they can possibly fit in the budget. But persuasive arguments can be made for these proposals. Helping care for students and prepare them to join the Hawaii workforce is a wise aim, one that merits public financial support.