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UH Hilo History

A timeline of growth from branch campus to internationally recognized university.

 1947 The Hilo Program, located on Haili Street, begins as an extension division of UH Mānoa.

Old building, two story, two cars parked out front.
Lyman Hall on Haili Street. According to the book “The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo: A College in the Making” (2001, UH Press) by former UH Hilo Chancellor Edward Kormondy and co-author former UH Hilo Director Frank Inouye, the Hilo Program began in 1947 as part of the Extension Division of the College of General Studies of UH Mānoa in Honolulu. Located in the former Hilo Boarding School, just above the present Lyman Museum on Haili Street, the Hilo Program had three faculty, four part-time lecturers, and 46 freshman students. Photo circa 1952-1953

1949 The Hilo Program is renamed the University of Hawai‘i-Hilo Center.

1951 The Center is renamed the University of Hawai‘i-Hilo Branch with an enrollment of 100 students.

University of Hawaii Hilo Branch sign and students
1951: Students sit in front of the sign for University of Hawai‘i Hilo Branch.

1955-56 Hilo Branch opens a new permanent campus on Lanikaula Street with the construction of College Hall and a gymnasium at a cost of $385,000. Enrolled in the two-year school were 155 students who were offered concentrations in the arts and sciences and courses in education, business administration, and engineering.

Construction site of College Hall with partial walls, dirt drive with trucks and vehicles parked, shrubby landscape with scattered lumber and rocks.
College Hall under construction. The building opens in 1956. Click to enlarge.

1969-1970 The four-year UH Hilo is established, enrollment tops 1,000 with several dozen professors.

Students on bench in front of building.
Circa 1970: Two students sit on a bench near the original UH Hilo library (the building now houses the UH Hilo Computer Center and UH Hilo-Hawai‘i Community College Education Center).

1971 Center of Continuing Education and Community Service is founded, later transforms into College of Continuing Education and Community Service in 1991.

1975 College of Agriculture is founded. Name changes in 1998 to College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Management.

Two students stand under sign reading: University of Hawaii at Hilo College of Agriculture.
Circa 1970s: Students at the newly constructed College of Agriculture.

1979 College of Arts and Sciences is established (formerly Hilo College).

1980 New Athletics Complex opens.

1982 Edwin H. Mookini Library the Edith Kanaka‘ole Hall classroom and office building open.

Glass front library at night with lights on inside. Library Lanai in forefront, students walking.
The new Library, named after former Chancellor Edwin H. Mookini (1976-1979), opens in 1982.

1987 Construction begins on 250-bed dormitory and dining hall complex.

1990 In 1990, UH Hilo’s University Park of Science and Technology opens on campus under UH Hilo management. The first tenants are several base facilities for international observatories with telescopes on Mauna Kea. Soon after, the Smithsonian Array base facilities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry complex, and the U.S.D.A. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center open. In 2006, UH Hilo opens its ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center. By 2007, total investment of tenants at the park is $800 million with the creation of over 400 jobs.

Aerial view of UH Hilo University Park of Science and Technology, the domes of the astronomy center, red roofs on other buildings. residential areas in background.
UH Hilo University Park of Science and Technology, adjacent to the main campus.

1991 Up to this point, UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College, located across the street from each other, operate almost as a single unit with students able to cross register at either campus. Now the two are separated into two institutions, although still share facilities and services.

1998 College of Hawaiian Language is founded and is named Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani.

Group of Hawaiian Studies graduates in lei.
Circa 1999: Hawaiian Studies graduates.

2001 $3 million Marine Science Building opens. It is the first new major building on campus in 20 years, providing classrooms, labs and offices for growing Marine Science program.

2003 $19 million three-story University Classroom Building opens. With lecture halls, classrooms, labs and offices, it provides additional space for expansion. Located at the new main entrance to campus, it is UH Hilo’s signature building.

Students stroll by UH Hilo's signature building called University Classroom Building.
Students stroll by UH Hilo’s signature building generically named the University Classroom Building. Photo by William Ing

2004 The School of Business becomes the College of Business and Economics.

2004 The Western Association for Schools and Colleges reaffirms UH Hilo’s accreditation through 2014.

Students in lab looking at papers.
Student in College of Pharmacy laboratory.

2006 College of Pharmacy is founded. In Fall 2007, inaugural class commences and college gains pre-candidate accreditation status, the first and only pharmacy college in the state to do so. In 2011, the college receives full accreditation when its first cohort of PharmD students graduates. In 2013, the college is renamed the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy in honor of Hawai‘ i’s late senior senator and the college’s greatest champion.

2006 ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i opens on campus at the University Park of Science and Technology.

Signage at Imiloa, lettering on rock wall: Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii University of Hawaii at Hilo. In the background is one of the cone shaped sections of the building.

2007-2008 UH Hilo celebrates its 60th anniversary.

2010 Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language presents two doctorates in Hawaiian and Indigenous Language and Culture Revitalization, the first doctoral degrees awarded at UH Hilo.

2011 The new Sciences and Technology Building opens.

People milling around the parking lot of the building, gathering for the opening. Three story building with sign: Sciences and Technology.
2011: Community gathers for opening of UH Hilo’s Sciences and Technology Building. Photo by Robbyn Peck


The new student housing complex Hale ʻAlahonua opens (see story and video). The first new student housing project since 1989 is a $32.5 million dollar structure made up of three, three-story residential wings that house approximately 300 students, increasing on-campus housing by more than 30 percent.

Hale seen from road.
2013: Hale ʻAlahonua opens. The new housing complex (at right) is located adjacent to the main campus, which can be seen in the left background across West Kāwili Street. Photo by Kelsey Ito


The new Student Services building is two story, glass front and red roof, surrounded by lush green foliage.
New Student Services building opens in 2013.

The new UH Hilo Bookstore opens, serving both UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College (see story and video).

The new Student Services Building opens. (2011 story on groundbreaking has info on structure and offices.)


Haleʻōlelo opens, the new permanent building for Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language.

$33 million in state funds are released for construction of a permanent building for the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy.

Two academic programs changed from provisional to established status, the bachelor of science in marine science and the master of arts in indigenous language and culture education.

Benchmarks: The master of science in conservation biology and environmental science program has graduated 100 students in 10 years, and over 340 doctorates have been awarded at UH Hilo.



Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of UH Hilo Graphics Department.