By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Student enrollment at University of Hawaii at Hilo dipped by 3 percent this year, bringing to an end at least a decade of regular, record-breaking population increases.
This fall semester, UHH’s student population fell by 138 students, or 3.3 percent, to a total of 4,034, according to university enrollment figures.
“We retained higher numbers for incoming freshmen,” explained Chancellor Donald Straney, “but the problem was with retaining students who were already here. … Enrollment has been growing by between 2 and 3 percent every year for several years. All summer long, new student enrollments were strong, but then we didn’t have as many students return.”
While ordinarily such a drop might be a worrisome signal, Straney said that comparable institutions across the country have experienced a similar loss of students.
“Sixty-two percent of them didn’t meet their retention goals this year,” he said.
University officials are attributing the student population reduction to the ongoing economic recovery.
“People perceive that we are now out of the recession, and jobs are opening up, so we’ve got a lot of students who are going out into the workforce and getting jobs,” Straney said.
For a decade, enrollment had regularly jumped each fall. In 2003, only 3,340 students were enrolled at UH-Hilo.
“UH-Hilo has experienced an extended period of enrollment growth due to the recognized quality of our programs, faculty and staff,” Straney said in university release. “Our colleges are working on ways to attract even more students to receive the benefits of those programs.”
As a result of the reduction in incoming tuition, the school has instituted a number of budget reductions, Straney said.
“Revenue is off by a couple million,” he said. “We’ve reduced our administrative affairs budget by 2 percent … and our student affairs budget by 4 percent.”
School faculty and staff are no strangers to stretching the budget as far as it will go, he added, after having dealt with a series of budget cuts since the recession began in 2008.
“The cuts, this time, are slightly good news, because they’re due to enrollment. That’s something we can control,” he said.
The new enrollment figures also show that women make up almost 59 percent of the population, with men making up just over 40 percent. Nearly 7 out of every 10 students, or 2,748, hail from Hawaii, while the remaining 32 percent, or 1,286, are from out of state.
Native Hawaiians, meanwhile, number 1,008, making up approximately 25 percent of the overall student body.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.