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Enrollment down at UH-Hilo, HCC due to pandemic

Enrollment at the University of Hawaii at Hilo has declined this fall as the school faces impacts from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the UH Institutional Research and Analysis Office, enrollment at UH-Hilo is down 6.1% this fall to 3,165, compared to 3,372 in fall 2019.

Chancellor Bonnie Irwin said the enrollment numbers include early college students, or high school students who are taking college courses. Early college enrollment is intentionally down about 50% this year, she said, “and we seek to re-vision what we do with those programs.”

Regular enrollment, however, is down 4.6%, “which is a little less than we feared it might be,” Irwin said in a conversation with members of the news media on Oct. 2.

“As you know, of course, a lot of families are struggling right now, trying to figure out how they’re going to afford college, and we’re trying to get as many of them connected with financial aid opportunities as we can, but we knew that we were going to struggle a little bit,” she said.

The number of transfer students, 314, also declined this year, according to Irwin.

“That does represent a pretty dramatic decrease,” the chancellor said. “As you know, some of our University of Hawaii Community Colleges have also been struggling a bit with enrollment. Because of COVID, a number of students are a little bit behind, I think, on their progress to their degrees, and I think our community colleges are seeing some of that. So we did anticipate our transfer numbers would be down.”

New freshmen enrollment, however, has increased for the second year, to 466, Irwin said. Last year, UH-Hilo welcomed 450 first-time freshmen.

The university has been working with EAB, a higher education consulting firm, on recruitment efforts for first-time freshmen.

“So our efforts, working with EAB and with our in-house admissions staff, have paid off,” Irwin said. “The last two years, our freshmen class numbers are going up, so now we just need to make sure we keep those students on track. So I’m optimistic about the future, but we are down a little bit this year.”

Hawaii Community College had a 7.1% decline in enrollment this fall, according to the Institutional Research and Analysis Office, with 2,430 student enrolled this semester compared to 2,615 last year.

Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas said administrators watched enrollment closely throughout the summer.

“We anticipated that COVID would have an impact if we switched modalities to more distance education,” she said in a telephone interview last week.

Indeed, Solemsaas said fall courses were originally offered as face-to-face or hybrid, but as COVID-19 cases surged in the summer, classes shifted largely online, and that may have caused some confusion.

The decline, she said, was “anticipated but still disappointing.”

According to Solemsaas, the number of continuing students, 1,137, has remained fairly steady, but HCC has seen a dip in the number of first-time freshmen students, 440.

Declining enrollment numbers will affect the schools’ budgets, as will an anticipated shortfall in state general funds due to COVID-19.

According to UH, about 60% of the systemwide budget comes from state general funds, and the state is projecting a $2.3 billion budget deficit.

Meanwhile, tuition revenue accounts for about 40% of UH’s operating budget.

Overall, UH has seen a 0.8% enrollment decline this fall across its 10-campus system, according to the Institutional Research and Analysis Office.

Irwin said UH-Hilo had prepared for possible enrollment declines 5% and 10%.

“At this point, we’ve cut pretty much everything discretionary that we can cut,” she said.

A number of cost-saving measures also have been implemented.

“We’ve just looked across the campus — what can we delay, what can we save,” Irwin said. “But now as we’re going into the budget forecast for the next several years, the state budget forecast is not looking pretty. … This year, I think we’re going to be able to get by with going into our reserves for a minimal amount, but in subsequent years, we have to be prepared for more cuts, and they are going to be painful this time. There’s no avoiding it, because we have to cut we’re estimating approximately $13-$14 million out of a budget that’s usually just a little bit over $70 million.”

Solemsaas said the impact to state and tuition revenues is a “double hit.”

HCC is “anticipating declining tuition revenues in our financial models,” consistent with what UH leaders have reported, she said.

Email Stephanie Salmons at
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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