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UH-Hilo students urge state to change course on higher education funding

Students at University of Hawaii at Hilo are asking education leaders to beef up the campus’ share of state funding.

UH-Hilo’s philosophy club kicked off a letter campaign that aims to “implore the state to invest more in higher education,” as well as reverse the overall trend of “divestment,” said club President Ralph Aquino on Monday.

Those leading the campaign have tabled on campus all week and will continue through today, gathering signatures from students on at least 240 template letters that will be mailed to Gov. David Ige, the UH Board of Regents and state Sen. Kai Kahele, a Hilo Democrat who chairs the Senate’s higher education committee.

Letters request leaders to allocate a “comprehensive funding package” and to “consider the burden” that course cancellations — necessitated by budget shortfalls — place on students and the community.

“If the focus is on enrollment as the primary driver of this University’s success, each class that is cut is another opportunity missed,” the letter reads.

“It’s definitely sending a message to the government that this is a public institution, and we’re paying a lot of money to get (access to) these qualifications,” said UH-Hilo junior Rossanah Gosser, who signed a letter. “ … It’s letting our voices be heard.”

Campaign leaders are calling it a “second-wave” of activism. The initial wave happened last month, when dozens of UH-Hilo students staged a “peaceful protest” against what they thought were proposed course cuts within the arts and humanities programs.

Administrators later said those arts and humanities classes were never actually proposed to be cut but rather courses taught by temporary lecturers who could potentially be replaced by permanent faculty.

Either way, students on Monday said they wanted to build on that momentum. They said the letter campaign isn’t meant to criticize administration but instead appeal to a “larger statewide issue” that’s “beyond the university.”

Enrollment campuswide dropped 3.5 percent this year, the sixth consecutive year it has declined.

As a result, UH-Hilo saw about a $1.2 million decrease in tuition revenue to its Academic Affairs unit — which administers budgets for instructional departments — along with with a $350,000 decrease to Academic Affairs as a result of state restrictions on general fund appropriations.

To offset the shortfall, each college or division was given a target budget 8 percent less than last year’s spending plan, excluding the pharmacy college, which is self-funded.

Several students who signed letters Monday said they’ve personally seen course offerings — along with the diversity of courses — dwindle through time.

European history major Kassandra Bailey, 21, said she’s worried about graduating later than planned because “there just aren’t enough classes offered.”

“If they do have a class that a lot of students need, it’s like a scramble — everyone is just trying to get in,” she said. “It doesn’t even matter what the class is about, it’s just a matter of getting that requirement.”

Linguistics major Kris Victor, 34, said he experienced similar anxiety when required linguistics courses aren’t available.

“When that happens, we’re stuck with getting overrides and forced to take certain courses that don’t normally apply to our degrees.” he said.

The number of classes offered was 644 campuswide this fall, compared with 698 in fall 2012, according to a report compiled by campus administration last month.

The number of arts and humanities classes was 145, down from 158 in 2012, though up from 135 in 2015.

In social science, there were 147 classes this fall compared with 172 in 2012. In natural science, there were 195 this fall compared to 210 in 2012.

In nursing there were 48 classes this fall, up from 31 in 2012.

Email Kirsten Johnson at


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