As part of a University of Hawai‘i systemwide initiative, UH Hilo is currently developing new ways to be more effective at recruitment, retention, and graduation. Each of the 10 campuses in the statewide UH system is developing their own five-year enrollment management plan specifically designed with appropriate goals for the individual campus.
The good news is that each year we are meeting our ever growing graduation performance targets (set by the UH System). Last year our goal was to graduate 926 students and we exceeded that with 955 students receiving degrees and/or certificates. But this success, while we are absolutely doing what we need to do, has a negative effect on enrollment.
While we at UH Hilo predict enrollment will continue to decline for fiscal year 2018 (on par with national trends), the drop should be smaller for the university than in previous years. Meanwhile we continue our enrollment management work with an integrated, strategic and holistic approach to student success that will reverse the decline and begin to rebuild enrollment.
Through careful planning and constant review and reevaluation of our progress, the campus is moving forward on several actions over the next year.
Place new admissions counselors for West Hawai‘i and transfer students as part of our redesigned marketing strategy and expanded recruitment on Hawai‘i Island. Expand counselor visits and open houses on neighbor islands, O‘ahu, and U.S. mainland.
Establish a Transfer Success Center as a one-stop service for advising, credit evaluation and engagement for incoming students.
Hire a First-Year Experience Director to expand our integrated programs aimed at increasing freshman retention from 71 percent to 75 percent by 2020. Our highly successful residential Living Learning Communities for first year students, with peer tutoring and residential programming, will be made a permanent part of offerings to incoming freshman.
Expand our successful peer mentoring programs to Marine Science with future programs in Biology and Health Sciences. These proven programs engage entering freshmen and transfer students in their first year, giving them a good academic start, especially in English and Mathematics.
Start the Starfish student success platform in spring 2018. Starfish is designed to identify students beginning to have academic difficulty through an early alert system, pinpointing areas of concern and connecting the students with appropriate services to stay on track to persist and graduate.
These actions illustrate a strategy in correcting declining enrollment through transitioning New Student Programs into First-Year Experience Programs. For example, by having upperclassmen in the majors serve as peer mentors, our campus goals are supported by 1) providing student employment income to upperclassmen, 2) providing peer support to underclassmen, 3) increasing retention and 4) increasing timely graduation.
Further, it’s important to note that despite decreased enrollment, our Orientation Program and Housing Program both have experienced increases this semester in their respective areas.
More students and their parents participated in this fall semester’s Orientation than last year. Orienting and engaging students early in their college experience contributes to first-year retention so we are very pleased to see this increase.
In Housing, 743 students are housed on campus so far this semester (as of Aug. 22) compared to 672 last year. Of those, 206 are housed in our new Hale ‘Alahonua residence hall compared to 148 last semester. In addition, there is a search in progress for an Associate Director for Residence Life position which will help to increase engagement of resident students.
At its core, all this activity in enrollment management is based on the foundational needs of Hawai‘i Island’s high school students and others to have options in accessing higher education on our island and to then to be successful in their academic endeavors—these are the guiding needs we are answering in these new directions in enrollment management.
We all need to work together—our internal university community and our local community at large—to plan for and implement these new directions in improving recruitment, retention and graduation. Together, we can work toward reversing the decline in enrollment and build a stronger, more accessible university for the people of our island, state and region.
I’m writing this column as I prepare to become interim chancellor of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo on Aug. 1. For those of you who don’t know me, I joined the UH Hilo faculty in 1991 in the field of economics becoming tenured and promoted to the top professor ranks over the years. I was the founding dean of UH Hilo’s College of Business and Economics in 2005, and have been vice chancellor for administrative affairs since 2011.
I begin my new work as interim chancellor during a time of much change at the university. Not only is there change in the Office of the Chancellor with former Chancellor Don Straney being reassigned to his new UH System leadership role as vice president of academic planning and policy, but there are also changes in other leadership positions at UH Hilo.
Professor of Geology Ken Hon is new interim vice chancellor for academic affairs, and we will soon have an interim vice chancellor for administrative affairs when I take leave from my current position. Professor of History Michael Bitter is now interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Economics Tam Vu is interim dean of the College of Business and Economics.
And there is even more change underway.
The university is developing a new Enrollment Management Plan that takes an integrated, strategic and holistic approach to student success.
We have a goal of returning our enrollment to 2010 levels by the year 2020 and are redeploying resources into a number of initiatives, such as strengthening and developing new student and residence life programming and creating pathways for transfer students from Hawai‘i.
This is part of a UH system-wide initiative to focus on our core education function and grow enrollment, even while the general national trend is for continued higher education enrollment decline. Each of the 10 campuses are developing their own enrollment management plans with specific goals.
And we are reorganizing the College of Arts and Sciences—our largest of five colleges—into two new college units. This will remove an administrative layer between the dean and the faculty to facilitate communication and active faculty engagement in retention activities. This year we will undertake process modifications for the two new colleges to make them fully functional. The overall goal is to foster student success and better use of resources.
This is a lot of change for any university community, but we have good people doing amazing things at UH Hilo (think teaching, research, community outreach). From this strong base, we can regain balance and shift our focus to getting our work done.
My role at this point in time is to be a steward of the process, and I embrace the responsibility—the kuleana—to create stability for our university community while we move forward together. Change creates opportunities and it creates challenges. My goal is to help our students, faculty, staff and other administrators see the opportunities and know they can continue to be productive and successful in their work.
UH Hilo is my home. And what I’ve grown to value most are people—our students, our university ‘ohana, and our greatest supporters, the people of our island. It is an honor and privilege to be entrusted with the responsibility to serve as UH Hilo’s steward and leader. I look forward to working with both the university community and our island community to create a more responsive and more accessible university for the people of our island and state.
The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo takes seriously its responsibility to be a good steward to our island’s people, culture and natural resources. This summer the university will be taking the first steps toward creating a new Data Science program to the benefit of Hilo and other island communities here and throughout the Pacific.
The first of four tenure-track professors who will lead the program starts his work with us in August. Grady Weyenberg, who grew up in Hilo, is a statistician and will be joined in the near future by additional experts in mathematics, computer science, and the natural and social sciences to help build the program.
The program is part of a statewide project funded by the National Science Foundation, which awarded the UH System $20 million last year to do a five-year study of water sustainability issues throughout the state. The project is called ʻIke Wai (Knowledge, Water) and has the overall goal of gathering new data on groundwater flow, sustainable yield, and economic impact. The data will help communities and state decision makers preserve Hawaiʻi’s water resources for the future.
‘Ike Wai is a collaborative project with data scientists and water researchers working statewide alongside local communities, indigenous peoples, government agencies and businesses to generate scientific data. Partners also include undergraduate students, graduate students, postdocs and junior faculty to address water challenges at the academic and policy level. This is where UH Hilo’s contributions come in.
Training the professionals of the future
As part of the ʻIke Wai program, new degree programs at UH Hilo will help produce a new generation of big data scientists and data analytics professionals in Hawaiʻi. To start, Dr. Weyenberg and the new faculty team will work with existing faculty to develop a Data Science Certificate Program, followed by a baccalaureate degree. In addition to developing curricula, they will also teach courses and mentor students.
The first cohorts of the new Data Science program will analyze data sets generated by the ‘Ike Wai project’s five-year study, assisting in the creation of a data-driven, sustainable water future for the state of Hawaiʻi and our Pacific neighbors. Students will have further opportunities to hone their data analysis skills by supporting research faculty, whose projects connected to the ‘Ike Wai project generate large amounts of data.
This type of data is of the utmost importance to moving our island communities and fragile ecosystems into the future successfully. Increasing population, changing land use practices, and issues relating to climate change are contributing to growing concerns over water quality and quantity in Hawaiʻi. In bringing together UH faculty and resources, state and federal agencies, and community partners, the ‘Ike Wai project will address critical gaps in the understanding of Hawaiʻi’s water supply that limit decision making, planning and crisis responses.
The project is multidisciplinary in scope with elements of geophysics, microbiology, cyberinfrastructure, data modeling, indigenous knowledge, and economic forecasting. By university scientists and budding student researchers working in partnerships with state and federal agencies and community groups, a comprehensive data base will be created to assist with important decisions that will move our state forward into a sustainable future.
Visit the EPSCoR website to learn more about the Data Science program and the ‘Ike Wai project.
Students in the new program train for heritage-related careers in both the public and private sector to interpret, preserve, and perpetuate cultural heritage—something of immense value to our local communities and indigenous culture.
UH Hilo takes seriously its responsibility to our island communities and indigenous culture, and community-based archaeology is a vital aspect of Hawaiian cultural revitalization.
In a paper on the importance of cultural resource management professionals, Peter Mills, professor of anthropology, writes that Hawai‘i struggles with many issues confronting heritage management programs globally. Grass roots efforts to better manage Hawaiian cultural sites are increasing, and state regulations require cultural resource managers to have an advanced degree—yet graduate training in anthropology and related fields in Hawai‘i is limited.
Let me share a story of one of the graduates to show the importance of this degree to our island families and communities.
Lokelani Brandt received her bachelor of arts in anthropology with a minor in Hawaiian studies from UH Hilo in 2012 after receiving her primary education at Ke Kula ‘o Nāwahīokalani‘ōpu‘u Hawaiian immersion school. She and her husband both have careers in Hilo (Lokelani is a lecturer for the Hawai‘i Life Styles Program at Hawai‘i Community College) and they would like to raise their family here.
With her newly received master of arts degree, Lokelani has accepted a full-time position in Hilo with ASM Affiliates, a major archaeological consulting firm. With her advanced degree in hand, she will be qualified to serve as a principal investigator on ASM’s field projects.
This type of career option will be very meaningful to many of our undergraduate students of Native Hawaiian ancestry—there is now an option to pursue professional leadership positions in archaeology and related fields rather than only volunteering for grass-roots organizations.
As Peter writes: “A shift in perspective is required, for example instead of viewing and interpreting ‘archaeological sites’ as significant only for their data, these cultural sites should be viewed as vital parts of a living Hawaiian culture.”
Watching these graduates at Commencement during the traditional “hooding” ceremony was a moving experience, knowing that the cohort will be going out into the world as professionals now credentialed to help preserve “a living Hawaiian culture.”
Along with UH Hilo’s responsibility to protect our islands’ cultural heritage, the university also accepts responsibility—given our location and resources—to learn with and from other island nations in the Pacific region. Our keynote speaker was President Tommy Esang Remengesau, Jr, of the Republic of Palau, an internationally recognized leader on environmental issues not the least of which is his leadership in the historic effort to implement the Palau National Marine Sanctuary.
President Remengesau’s remarks focused on the responsibilities we all share in taking care of our island states, communities, and environment. This great man practices what he preachers—his work and visionary leadership is inspirational as we proceed in working together on the challenges of our time: sustainability, environmental protection and cultural preservation.
In addition to these responsibilities, the university also remains committed to safeguarding human rights, notably the rights of our LGBTQ+ community.
Our student speaker at commencement, Karla Kapo‘aiola Ahn, a performing arts major and entertainer who often performs music on campus, spoke about her gender transition and about how UH Hilo—in particular Professor of Drama Jackie Johnson, just retired—provided the unconditional support she needed to realize her full potential in her studies and in her life while at the university.
Karla personifies our pride in being the nation’s most diverse university system. We live the aloha spirit.
It was a beautiful Commencement celebrating cultural heritage, sustainability, and diversity, reaffirming our responsibilities in addressing the challenges of our time.