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UH sees drop in enrollment of 3.3 percent

Updated: 
October 3, 2017 - 4:53pm

HONOLULU — Enrollment at most University of Hawaii campuses dropped this year, as some community colleges appear to be losing students to the workforce in a tight labor market.

Of the 10 campuses across the state, only UH-West Oahu saw growth in its student body, continuing a trend that recently won it national recognition. Enrollment rose by 4.9 percent over last fall to 3,082 students, on top of a 9.2 percent jump the previous year.

Honolulu Community College and Leeward Community College, which both have strong programs in the trades, saw the biggest declines in their student populations among the UH campuses, according to data released Monday. HCC’s enrollment fell by 8.7 percent to 3,563 students, while LCC’s shrank by 6.3 percent to 6,805, from last fall.

“The strong economy has certainly pulled students out of the community colleges,” said John Morton, UH vice president for community colleges. “We are working to be sure we provide a way for those students to complete their college degrees while working, as well as the many other students who have left with college credits but no degree.”

He added, “I also encourage students with financial need to contact us as the Hawaii Promise program is now available to cover the unmet costs of tuition, fees, books and supplies for students with need.”

The enrollment figures, as of Oct. 2, were made public Monday by the UH Institutional Research & Analysis Office and will be considered by the Board of Regents at its meeting Thursday. Overall enrollment in the University of Hawaii system slipped 3.3 percent to 51,674 from 53,420 last fall.

Other four-year campuses saw declines in enrollment, as has been the trend in recent years. UH-Manoa, the flagship campus, dropped by 2.5 percent to 17,612 students from last year, following a 4.3 percent decline the previous year. UH-Hilo slid by 3.5 percent to 3,539 students, after also dropping 4.3 percent the previous year.

The figures capture overall enrollment, so the decline may reflect a positive trend as well: More students are getting their degrees on time rather than lingering in school for years on end. The four-year graduation rate at UH-Manoa rose from 17.5 percent in 2010 to 24.7 percent in 2014 to a new high of 34 percent in 2017.

Meanwhile, the number of students entering as freshmen is promising for the future, officials say. At UH-Hilo, enrollment of first-time freshmen jumped by 12.5 percent to 415 this fall, up from 369 the previous year, after a concerted effort to reverse declines in recent years.

At UH-Manoa, enrollment by first-time freshmen slipped by less than 1 percent after rising 3.6 percent last year. The first-year retention rate rose by 2 percentage points to 78.8 percent.

“We’re proud of our retention,” said Roxie Shabazz, director of admissions at Manoa. “We have to continue to work on our recruitment to continue to bring those numbers up.”

Nationwide, the college-age population is shrinking due to demographics, and competition for students is fierce, with admissions offices at private and public institutions ramping up their marketing efforts.

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