MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After a five-year decline in student enrollment, the University of Hawaii is working to reverse the trend.
President David Lassner set an ambitious goal to bring enrollment at its flagship campus, UH Manoa, back to 20,000 by the year 2020.
There were 20,426 students enrolled in Fall 2012.
That number dropped 12 percent to 18,056 in Fall 2016.
Internal reports predict another 2 percent decline in enrollment for Fall 2017 if changes aren't made.
"We have a big emphasis starting with undergraduate education, then we'll be doing more with graduate education next year," said Lassner.
Lassner said one reason enrollment has trailed off is because the employment rate is low, meaning more people are opting out of higher education and heading straight to the workforce.
He said there's also been a decline in community college enrollment and transfers, plus a larger number of students are graduating on time.
UH Manoa student Octavio Tan said the dip in numbers doesn't surprise him.
Facilities could be better and tuition could be lower.
"A lot of stuff breaks down here then there's construction that's being going on since my brother has been here," said Tan. "I feel like every year they add more percentage to our tuition that it's really hard for students to pay for our things on time."
Lassner doesn't believe the cost of education is a factor.
According to the US Department of Education, UH Manoa's tuition is below the national average.
Strategies are underway to attract new students while keeping existing ones.
Lassner said one of them involves offering retention grants to about 300 students in the spring.
"We said if you come back for your sophomore year, we're going to offer you an additional scholarship," said Lassner.
The university is also considering offering new degree programs, adjusting its target populations and improving technology to better track student trends.
"Hawaii needs a more educated citizenry and workforce and in part, it's a major part of our revenue base," Lassner said.
While campuses across the UH system saw a decline in enrollment, Lassner said UH West Oahu campus has been booming.