EXCLUSIVE: HPU loses 10% of students; lays off professors

EXCLUSIVE: HPU loses 10% of students; lays off professors

Hawaii Pacific University laid off about seven percent of its full-time faculty this week, as the school cut its spending to deal with a nearly 10 percent drop in enrollment.

It's the second year in a row the university has made budget cuts and reduced its payroll as it deals with a cash crunch from fewer tuition dollars.

HPU said 18 out of 251full-time professors did not have their contracts renewed at the end of the school year.

School officials have told staff some of those cuts came in HPU departments where enrollment no longer could justify the current number of faculty.

Sources said approximately 14 other staff and faculty took early-retirement buyouts from the school earlier this spring.  Some of those whose contracts had not been renewed had been offered buyouts but turned them down, sources said.

"Unlike public universities that receive state funding, HPU's operating budget is largely from tuition dollars and private gifts," said Janet Kloenhamer, HPU's executive vice president for administration and general counsel in a statement.

"The realignment of existing resources is necessary to make long-term investments to ensure that HPU becomes an even better, stronger university," Kloenhamer said.

HPU enrollment decreased by nearly 10 percent from 7.462 in the fall of 2012 to 6,736 in the fall of 2013, a school spokeswoman said, noting the drop was primarily with part-time students, "especially in military campus programs due to federal budget sequestration."

A year ago, HPU officials admitted the school was dealing with an operating deficit. As result, in May and June 2013 HPU laid off nearly 24 administrative staffers, cut some part-time faculty and eliminated about 60 sections of courses.

Friday, a school spokeswoman would not confirm whether the school still has an operating deficit or disclose how much of a deficit the school has.

HPU is reducing retirement benefits for all employees, with annual employer contributions going from 11-percent of their salaries to six percent of their pay, which Kloenhamer said remains a "competitive benefit package."

Carrie Schuler, who just graduated from HPU last week and will start a master's in communications program there next year, is philosophical about the cuts.

"I know that there are some necessary and exciting changes going on at HPU and so, unfortunately there are some things that you need to cut back on in order to grow the future," said Schuler, who's originally from Arizona.

Schuler said students felt the impact of eliminating courses in the last year.

"A lot of my friends have gotten into trouble when they needed to take classes and they weren't available any more. You just completely hit a dead end when you needed to take a class to graduate," Schuler said.

She said one friend who was an accounting major could not get into a required class so he switched majors to business in order to graduate on time.

HPU has faced more competition from the University of Hawaii for a number of reasons, including the opening of the new UH West Oahu campus in the last year.

UH has also made progress in recent years in restoring previously cut classes, so fewer frustrated UH students are transferring to HPU.

HPU faculty members, who are not unionized and do not have tenure protection, have been told not to speak to the news media about the budget cuts.

One faculty member who asked not to be identified said "HPU is upgrading the caliber of its students.  When you do that, you lose students."

"We are positioning ourselves to be a leaner, meaner, smaller university.  When that happens, you need less faculty and staff," the faculty member said.

Other faculty and students said the school is trying to recruit more four-year students and fewer short-term international students who come for just one semester or a year and don't focus as much on academics and school activities.

HPU is building $30 million worth of dorms and other education facilities at Aloha Tower Marketplace, a project that school officials will not be affected by the budget cuts.

Related Link:

To combat a deficit, HPU cuts classes, lecturers

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