As we watch the university enrollment trends across the country, the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo is not too different from our peers. Nationwide, there are fewer college-aged students to go around, and colleges and universities compete for enrollment and try to distinguish themselves as best we can. Almost every university touts individual attention, expert faculty and meaningful student experiences. We can argue that UH Hilo does these things better, but when everyone else is making the same claim, it becomes hard to distinguish our excellence. Why do certain students choose UH Hilo and how do we know who will thrive here? These are the questions that our recent data efforts seek to answer.
We start with data.
Who comes to UH Hilo? Like many other places, we see more women coming through our doors than men—64% vs. 35% (1% did not report). We know we serve an ethnically diverse population. Indeed US News & World Report has named us the most diverse National University for the last few years. Within that diversity, about a third of our students identify as Native Hawaiian, 19% as Asian, and 24% Caucasian. Most notably, and a reflection of our island, some 14% identify themselves as mixed race. As I have noted before, this diversity is one of the great strengths of our campus and our community.
We serve mostly Hawaiʻi residents: 71% of our students are considered residents for admissions purposes. Of those students, the majority come from Hawaiʻi county. We are the local campus, the most affordable university option. Still, many families choose to send students to the countinent for their education. That is certainly understandable, given the desire that young people (and their parents) have for a broader experience, but how many of our local families know that UH Hilo is a member of the National Student Exchange, which allows our students to attend another university on the continent while paying their in-state UH tuition? The same applies to our numerous international exchange partners.
Once we know who comes, the harder question to answer is, “Who stays?” For example, we find that the graduation rate for Native Hawaiian students is roughly the same as that for the student body as a whole. Our Native Hawaiian support programs, such as peer mentoring, certainly help with this. We will learn from these programs to see how we can best support other students. We also know that we retain and graduate our resident students at a higher rate than our out-of-state students.
The companion question, of course, is, “Who leaves?” A group of faculty and staff participated in the Student Success Data Analytics program last year, and the issue that they have chosen to tackle is how the leaving and staying play out among our transfer students. Once we learn who leaves and who stays (by major, by race, by residence), we will follow up with focus groups and interviews. Why do people leave? We know that sometimes there are personal issues that come up that cannot be avoided. If a non-resident student leaves, we also consider the impact of homesickness. Other times, a student decides on an academic path that is not available here. In some cases, a student may never have planned to stay, but opted to start at Hilo because it was convenient.
Finding answers to these questions will allow us to better serve our students, grow our enrollment, and ensure that UH Hilo remains the vibrant and successful university that that Hawai‘i needs and Hawai‘i Island deserves.
Bonnie D. Irwin
Chancellor, UH Hilo