Office of the Chancellor

History of UH Hilo

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

Aerial of campus, few buildings1960

Aerial of campus, full of buildings with red roofs, parking lots2003

2014 Aerial of campus, full of buildings with red roofs, parking lots. Photo: Andrew Hara2014

On this page:


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

Old building, two story, two cars parked out frontLyman 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


The Hilo Program is renamed the University of Hawaiʻi-Hilo Center.


The Center is renamed the University of Hawaiʻi-Hilo Branch with an enrollment of 100 students.

University of Hawaiʻi Hilo Branch sign and students1951: Students sit in front of the sign for University of Hawaiʻi Hilo Branch


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.


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

Students on bench in front of buildingCirca 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-Hawaiʻi Community College Education Center).


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


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 Hawaiʻi at Hilo College of AgricultureCirca 1970s: Students at the newly constructed College of Agriculture.


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


New Athletics Complex opens.


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.


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


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.


Up to this point, UH Hilo and Hawaiʻi 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.

Sign: University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, in lava wall

Sign: Hawaiʻi Community College, at entrance to college


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

Group of Hawaiian Studies graduates in leiCirca 1999: Hawaiian Studies graduates.


$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.


$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 BuildingStudents stroll by UH Hilo’s signature building, generically named the University Classroom Building. Photo by William Ing


  • The School of Business becomes the College of Business and Economics.
  • The Western Association for Schools and Colleges reaffirms UH Hilo’s accreditation through 2014.


  • College of Pharmacy is founded. In Fall 2007, the inaugural class commences and the 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 Hawaiʻi’s late senior senator and the college’s greatest champion.
  • ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaiʻi opens on campus at the University Park of Science and Technology.

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


UH Hilo celebrates its 60th anniversary.


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.


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 TechnologyThe Sciences and Technology Building is completed in 2011.


  • The new student housing complex Hale ʻAlahonua opens (see Hale ʻAlahonua 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.
  • The new UH Hilo Bookstore opens, serving both UH Hilo and Hawaiʻi Community College (see story and video).
  • The new Student Services Building opens. (2011 story on groundbreaking has info on structure and offices.)

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


Aerial view of Haleolelo College of Hawaiian LanguageHale’ōlelo opens in January of 2014


Nursing cohort in white coats pose for photoMembers of the first class of doctor of nursing practice students at UH Hilo’s 2015 Spring Commencement. Courtesy photo.



Students at tables in newly renovated dining roomStudents enjoying the new furniture and layout in the Campus Center Dining Room.


Two students play pick up ball


Two-story glass-fronted buildingNew building to house the UH Hilo Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy.


Aerial view, artist rendering of new soccer field and softball fieldArtist rendering of new soccer and softball fields at UH Hilo. The project is slated for completion in Sept. 2021. Courtesy image from Vulcan Athletics.


Signage: Hawaiian Volcano Observatory United States Geological SurveySign for the old Hawaiian Volcano Observatory in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. Photo by Ken Lund.

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