UH-Hilo, HCC student numbers decline again

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald University of Hawaii at Hilo students sit Tuesday at tables outside the Edwin H. Mookini Library on campus.

HILO — Student populations declined again at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and Hawaii Community College, according to fall enrollment numbers released this week by the university system.

Enrollment figures show that UH-Hilo has 3,406 students enrolled, a 3.8 percent decrease from last year’s 3,539 students, while HCC has 2,632 students enrolled, a 6.6 percent decline from last year’s 2,819 students, the largest drop among community colleges in the UH system.

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UH-Hilo’s student population has declined every year since 2012, when it peaked at 4,157 students after several years of growth. At HCC, enrollment has similarly dropped each year after peaking at 3,917 students in 2011.

Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai said UH-Hilo anticipated a decrease in enrollment following Kilauea volcano eruption activity that began in early May in lower Puna, and university officials noticed a change in student responses, such as intents to enroll, immediately after May 3, which is when the eruption began.

HCC Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas said enrollment at the community college and the economy tend to have an inverse relationship.

HCC has been in “declining mode since the economy turned back around” following the recession of 2008, she said, adding that “when the economy is good, residents tend to go back to work.”

Although the decline matches at the system level, Solemsaas said the school did see “quite a drop for our college compared to prior years.”

There were 2,154 continuing students this fall, compared with 2,256 last year, a 4.5 percent decrease.

Solemsaas said declining enrollment also will affect the HCC budget.

“So we are looking very closely on how we can further address any anticipated deficit resulting from reduced tuition revenue,” she said.

According to Solemsaas, there should be savings once solar panels at HCC’s Palamanui campus in Kailua-Kona are installed and operational. HCC also will “look closely at vacant positions,” she said.

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A total of 51,063 students are enrolled throughout the University of Hawaii’s 10 campuses, a decline of 1.2 percent from last fall, according to UH.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.