Budget Cuts at UH Hilo: Part 2

How financial woes have plagued the Student Life Center

News Editor Aspen Mauch

Photographer Zach Gorski

“We’re all facing budget issues, and as a business, you have to prioritize programs, you have to look for ways to be more efficient and more economical, and campus recreation is no different. We have to run as efficient and cost effective as we can.” — Tim Moore, Director of Campus Recreation

The Student Life Center Pool empty

In a continuation on how budget cuts have affected different departments and student programs on campus, Timothy A. “Tim” Moore, Director of the Campus Recreation Department, gives some insight as to what impact these cuts have had on the Student Life Center (SLC).

Interestingly, Moore has noted that the SLC budget actually hasn’t been ‘cut,’ per se - in fact their allotted budget has essentially stayed the same since the opening of the SLC in 2008. Rather, the source of budget issues are the combination of two factors: the steady decline of enrollment at UH Hilo, and the increase in student employee wages. SLC receives the overwhelmingly majority of their budget from student fees, meaning that when enrollment goes down, so does their allotted budget. In addition, because the Hawai‘i State Legislature is responsible for student wages increasing by an overall 21 percent over the past three years - according to some metrics - many at SLC feel backed into a corner. “That's an additional $100,000 per year, if we kept all student employment as is,” Moore said. “We didn't have $100,000 so we had to look and say, “Okay, how can we do cost savings, where can we cut back on programs, where can we eliminate positions, and where can we decrease hours of the facility so that we’re within budget.””

As far as how this affects the dozens of student workers at SLC? “Well I think they obviously would like to have more hours,” Moore said. “The funny thing is that the legislature did this wage increase with the thought that it was for the benefit of students, and in a perfect world where we had unlimited funding, it would be a huge benefit. All the students would be getting paid more. Since Campus Recreation has one pot of money, if you raise everyone's salary that means that either students are going to get less hours or we’ll employ less students, or both, and so it actually hurts students by raising the student salaries because since the pot of money has not changed, there's less money to go around.”

Moore also noted that these budget issues haven’t just affected SLC or UH Hilo, but the entire UH system.

“I think that the campus in general is having to reevaluate how they’re doing things, and this is university wide,” Moore said. “For the past three years, there's been a trend of our enrollment going down, and that affects the whole university system. It's not just us, enrollment has been down at most of the other schools… So it's not just our campus, but all the campuses are making tough decisions, are reevaluating, are running leaner and meaner, and are looking at serious recruitment and retention issues… We’re all facing budget issues, and as a business, you have to prioritize programs, you have to look for ways to be more efficient and more economical, and campus recreation is no different. We have to run as efficient and cost effective as we can.”

Moore hints that one of the factors in the decline of enrollment may have been the establishment of a new campus on West Oʻahu in August 2012. “West Oʻahu is one of the few schools where their enrollment is going up - because it's a new school of course - but what that means is when their attendance goes up, UH Hilo and UH Mānoa attendance could go down,” Moore said. “They're taking students that could possibly have come to UH Hilo or UH Mānoa - so we have new “competition,” even though it's a UH school, so that's another factor involved in the whole kind of budgetary issues that we’re currently facing.”

When asked if he feels if there is inequity with their share of the budget on campus, Moore said,

“The overwhelmingly majority of our budget is student fees. It has nothing to do with any other department and how much budget they get, because other departments are funded differently—some get grant money, a government allocated fund, etc. We’re just looking at our department and how much funding we have, and because enrollment has decreased, the amount of fees we get has also decreased, and then you add on top of it the increase in student wages, and that puts us in a position where we’re really having to watch every penny, nickel, and dime.”

In another effort to combat budgetary issues, Moore says SLC is looking to raise student fees for the first time in eight years: “...our costs have gone up significantly since we opened in 2008, so we’re looking at doing that sometime in the future,” Moore said. For reference, UH Hilo students currently pay $78 per semester in student fees to SLC - whether they use it or not. As of Fall 2015, SLC is also closed on all holidays [formerly, only on Christmas and New Year’s Day] - another consequence of budget issues.

As far as his thoughts on the actions administration is taking to handle these budget issues, Moore said,

“I think our administration is doing its best to look for ways to get more funding from the legislature and to look for ways to increase our enrollment. I think that is a priority for the university - they're aware of the situation for us and other departments - Health and Wellness, Campus Center, all departments in Student Affairs. Across the board, there are budget issues and it's obviously a priority to them, so hopefully we’ll have some concrete solutions in the near future.”

With the appointment of a new Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Farrah-Marie Gomes, some are wondering if this could be a step forward towards finding a new solution for budgetary issues. With regard to Gomes, Moore said, “I think the new vice chancellor will be inheriting some of these issues, and I think one of their first charges will be to come up to date with the finances of the division and see what is being done. To find out where things can be run more efficiently, where can we get more grant money, and how we can create more revenue, because it's a diverse department that involves everything from the Women's Center to the Registrar's Office, so there's a lot of differences and a lot of different ways of funding. One of the biggest factors in the division of Student Affairs is registration and recruitment of new students, and one of the major focuses of the University is looking for ways to advertise, to promote, to attract new students to UH Hilo… The University is looking for ways to improve the services to students, to improve campus recreational services and so forth. Its a problem campus wide - no funding - and when we have less students, when we have less enrollment, when we have less grants - it is what it is.”

As far as state and national politics are concerned, Moore is hopeful that the 2016 elections will have a positive impact on enrollment for UH Hilo. “In election year, you don't know how that will affect enrollment, sometimes it can effect it dramatically,” Moore said. “Enrollment fluctuates based on trends of the world and the United States, and so this next election may affect our future enrollment, but we won't know that until students start putting the money down and registering for classes.”

Despite such challenges, SLC leaders feel they are trying to make the most of what they’re given, and they recognize the tough decisions that need to be made in order to stay within budget. “When we’re in times of enrollment growth, there's a lot of opportunity to expand and do more things because there's more revenue,” Moore said. “When we’re in a time of tight revenue and low enrollment, we have to look at cost cutting measures, efficiencies and all sorts of things. It's not just us, it's every department, every unit, every division at the University. So that's where we stand, and we’re in support of doing more measures that help recruit and retain students. Campus Recreation is vital to that, because we’re a major factor in retention at the University - because students that become connected and become engaged at the University have a much higher propensity to stay in school and do better in school... Not to mention all the health and wellness factors that are involved in recreation, the leadership development that we offer, in addition to skills, education, classes, and so forth. We are a hub of interaction, a hub of social interaction, a hub of wellness and education; we are one of the busiest buildings on campus.”

According to Moore, approximately 1,200 students come through SLC’s doors every Monday.

“That's a third of the student population… and that tells us that students value what we do, they appreciate and participate in what we do, and so we just want to keep doing that to the best of our ability.”