This month I would like to share with you a condensed version of my remarks at the 2022 Fall Welcome event, which we held in person this year. It was wonderful to see everyone, welcome new faculty and staff, and recognize faculty promotions and tenure. Traditionally at this event, the chancellor also updates everyone about the coming semester (you may view my full remarks here.)
Fall 2022 is the dawning of a new day at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, faculty are once again traveling to conduct research, students are re-engaging in their off-campus service work and research, employees are reconnecting through social and educational events, groups such as high school students are once again visiting campus, and new students were welcomed with lei at Convocation. This in-person activity reminds us that we are indeed a vibrant community.
We start the semester as beneficiaries of the hard work being put into our new strategic plan. Action items include developing workshops for faculty researchers to learn more about resources, creating opportunities for UH Hilo students who have studied abroad to share those experiences with local high school students, talking with members of the new Chancellor’s Community Advisory Board about ways to increase community engagement, and expanding outreach to tell UH Hilo’s story to more people across the state.
In the area of enrollment, it appears that our total numbers will be down this year. This is true for campuses across the country, as the population of traditional college-aged citizens has flattened or decreased in most places, and COVID has had some students re-thinking what they want to do with their lives. But while the total number may be down, our campus engagement is up. As of Sept. 1, 59.2 percent of our classes have some kind of in-person component, and of our home-based degree-seeking students, 79.1 percent have something on campus, indicating that the percentage of solely online students has shrunk as we have begun to offer more hybrid and in-person offerings. Further, the number of students living on campus is up from last fall. These are all good trends.
The budget that was cut in 2020 has been restored, and the governor added requests for new faculty positions that the legislature supported in nursing and aeronautical sciences. The legislature also recognized the vision of Ka Haka ʻUla o Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language and the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in revitalizing ‘Ōlelo Hawaiʻi, and approved numerous positions for the college to expand its curriculum development; we are so proud UH Hilo is taking the lead in helping the state accomplish the goal of renormalizing ‘Ōlelo Hawaiʻi. House Bill 2024, now Act 255, establishes a Maunakea Stewardship Authority, and by 2028, UH will no longer be in the primary position of stewardship of the mauna.
UH Hilo’s re-accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) includes commendation for our strong sense of place, our commitment to the revitalization of ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i, and our academic programs that engage with our community. The commission also notes we could improve our institutional research and data resources, program reviews, and the integration of strategic planning among different groups. Addressing these concerns is a high priority.
We are not the same university we were at the turn of the millennium. The state and higher education generally have changed considerably in the last twenty years, and we need to keep pace with those changes. Through it all, we remain anchored by our values and strengths of engaged teaching and learning and service to students and community, in this amazing place we are fortunate to call home.
Bonnie D. Irwin