Flagging enrollment, rising tuition spur tough questions for UH-Manoa

UH tuition cap could limit financial burden for parents, students
Updated: Feb. 23, 2017 at 9:45 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The cost of attending the state's largest public university is getting out of reach for many Hawaii families, say lawmakers, who are proposing a moratorium on tuition hikes and spending restrictions for UH-Manoa.

"Higher education is slowly becoming out of their reach," said state Sen. Kai Kahele, chairman of the Committee on Higher Education. "One of the reasons we're seeing the decline in enrollment is the tuition rates."

Kahele says he's a proud product of the University of Hawaii system, but the rise in tuition has created a huge financial burden on students and their parents. He added that he's gotten hundreds of letters from people across the state pleading for help, including one mother on Kauai.

"It was cheaper for her daughter to go to a Western University Exchange college on the mainland than stay here home here in Hawaii," Kahele said.

Before 1995, tuition was relatively flat and all tuition revenue from the University of Hawaii was deposited into the state's general fund.

But the law was changed that year, allowing the university to keep that money as part of a move to foster autonomy for the institution.

"Since 1995, 22 years later, tuition has gone up over 600 percent at UH Manoa," Kahele said.

UH's Chief Financial Officer Kalbert Young said while tuition has gone up, UH-Manoa is still a "very affordable option."

Young acknowledges that tuition has gone up substantially, but says it was necessary because the state Legislature has reduced state funding.

This year, UH got about $428 million from lawmakers, down about $32 million from 2009.

"The general fund appropriation has significantly curtailed since the recession, and the university has been having to bear a lot of that increased cost," Young said.

The Board of Regents recently approved tuition increases for the next three years. By academic year 2019-2020, Hawaii students will be paying $11,304 a year to attend UH Manoa, while non-residents will have to pay $33,336 -- not including housing, meals, books, or other expenses.

Kahele originally wanted to a moratorium on tuition increases for 10 years, but for now his proposal doesn't have a start or end date. He's also seeking to hold the university more accountable for spending, and rein in high salaries for executives.

UH officials said a moratorium of any kind of tuition hikes would be damaging.

"We would see the university have to start to shrink," Young said, "which means shrinking the number of programs and services that are offered to the student population."

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