UH defends tuition hikes to skeptical senators

UH defends tuition hikes to skeptical senators

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - University of Hawaii officials Tuesday defended a plan that will raise tuition at UH's ten campuses across the state, saying the hikes will make up for recent budget cuts and will help meet rising costs.  But they got a skeptical response from state senators at a briefing of the Senate Ways and Means and Education committees.

Tuition at UH's ten campuses across the state went up by more than 100 percent over the last five years and now UH is in the first of five more years of tuition hikes that will boost the cost of a UH degree by another 29 percent.

"We're pricing local students out of their public education at the only public university here," said State Sen. Sam Slom, (R-Hawaii Kai, Kahala), during a briefing Tuesday morning.

"I would challenge you on that, Senator Slom," responded UH Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Linda Johnsrud.

She defended the hikes, saying UH's annual tuition for in-state students of a little more than $9,000 is slightly below the national average.

"We're educating a whole lot more students and we are stretching our people about as far as they can be stretched.  We're a people-intensive industry.  There's just no way around that," Johnsrud said.

She said UH must meet rising costs, such as collective bargaining pay hikes for unionized employees and utility fees.

Some senators were alarmed to find out the money UH spends per student on instruction has fallen by $3,053 from $17,209 in the 2008-2009 school year to $14,156 two years later, an 18-percent decrease.

Johnsrud said that's because of a 35-percent increase in UH enrollment during the recession.

"So we've got many, many more students, so that per-student cost is being spread over, because we had like about 10,000 more students in that time period," she added.

Howard Todo, UH's Chief Financial Officer, told senators, "Our total funds go down, enrollments go up, so the per student funds are less."

Even with the tuition increases, UH saw a net $13 million decrease in funds over the last three years, Todo said.

Slom asked this question: "What are you doing about cutting the costs at the university so that you don't have to increase the tuition and make the students pay for everything that there is."

Johnsrud answered, saying, "Our salaries have -- almost across the board -- been cut by five percent since 2009, for salary savings purposes."

Johnsrud and Todo said they've been forced to get more efficient because they've endured a 20-percent cut in state budget appropriations, with higher enrollments.

"We have far less lecturers and instructors around.  Our regular faculty has had to pick up a lot more courses that they wouldn't otherwise teach," Johnsrud said."We have sustained that 35 percent increase in students with less dollars and the same personnel over the last five years."

"Because of the incredible increase in enrollment, we have so many more students to serve, and we haven't had more dollars to do it, so the efficiencies have gone up," Johnsrud said.

UH junior Kaitlyn Baria, a political science and English major, sat in the front row of the hearing room.  She's an intern for Slom.

After the hearing, Baria said, "You see the tuition hikes and it's just going up and up and up and up.  And they keep calling it modest.  Well, for students and families it's not modest.  And to hear it called that kind of, you know, makes me angry."

Senate Ways and Means Chairman State Sen. David Ige said one thing was clear at the end of the hearing.

"There hasn't been an effort to really look at the costs and make a determination about whether we can be more efficient or where we can cut costs.  And hopefully that conversation can continue," Ige said. 

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