Budget Cuts at UH Hilo

Campus leaders hesitant to comment on finances

News Editor Aspen Mauch
Graphic Designer Tiffany Erickson

Budget Cut Graphic, showing a dollar bill wearing a tight belt

UH Hilo has faced significant budget cuts over recent years, and these cuts have been steadily impacting the different departments and student programs on campus. Due to the sensitive nature of discussing finances, many department leaders and members of the University’ administration have declined to comment on the subject, or were hesitant to speak on the record about the possibility of impending cuts for various departments and offices. Ke Kalahea will be providing a follow-up article on budget cuts affecting our University, as we continue to search for more answers.

According to Marcia Sakai, Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs, budget cuts are necessary because UH Hilo general revenues - such as state appropriations and tuition and fee revenues - have not kept up with expenses. “The need to reduce spending is happening because our costs are growing faster than our revenues,” Sakai said.

“The University provides a range of services to support our mission—instruction, academic support, student support, and business service support, all of which create costs of operation in addition to those of operating campus facilities… At UH Hilo, budgets are allocated to major divisions (Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, Administrative Affairs) and the Vice Chancellor of each division makes further allocation decisions within the division. In the case of Academic Affairs, the college deans may decide on departmental budget allocations. The decision maker may further determine how much to plan for spending on staff and how much to plan for spending on supplies and other operational items.”

One major area that budget cuts have drastically affected is student employment. Throughout recent years, minimum wages for student employees have steadily been increasing. Although an increase in minimum wages for students sounds like a good thing, it appears that budget cuts are forcing the departments to compensate for this increase in minimum wages by hiring fewer student employees and delegating fewer student work hours. “Our plan for student employment spending in FY 2017 is higher than what we planned for FY 2016, over all funding sources, but we recognize that the increase in minimum wages for students mean that any given allocation amount will hire fewer student employee hours,” Sakai said.

As for how this has affected student employees, JJ Ramirez, a lifeguard at the Student Life Center, said, “We are not able to work our full 20 hours [per week] always, so that kinda sucks. We [the lifeguards] all get 4-8 hours per week guarding, versus our old 20 hours. We used to have three guards here too, but now we only have two guards.” In an effort to conserve money, pool hours at SLC were also cut in Fall 2015. Ramirez also noted that SLC’s program Outdoor EdVentures has had significantly less outdoor activities scheduled for this year, all due to budget cuts.

And it's not just the Student Life Center that's been forced to cut student work hours. In addition to student work hours being cut in general, according to New Student Programs (NSP) Director, Shara Mahoe, student employees at NSP volunteer approximately 100 hours of their time for training and hosting orientation week, because NSP can’t afford to compensate them.

When asked if she feels if departments receive enough money in their budget to operate efficiently, Sakai stated,

“The department managers are charged to spend as efficiently as they can. Generally, this means looking for alternative and less costly ways of accomplishing the same outcome when we plan for spending reduction.”

Despite challenges with funding, NSP still finds a way ensure that it doesn’t interfere with the services they provide to students. “We made a few cuts when it came to student employment (hours per week), however, the expectation and production of programs being offered by NSP hasn't changed,” Mahoe said. “Our mission is to create connections, promote academic success and develop 'ohana… A lot of the programs we put on, we make it work. The budget that's given to the students, they know how to either look for the best deals that we have around town or collaborate with other departments to help get our message out… Through programs like Haumana Hou... weekly store shuttles… Academic Achievement Award Cards, and our popular Bike Share program, we are determined to continue providing these free services for all students. It'd be great if we had a bigger budget for both student employment, year-long programming and Fall/Spring orientation, but we've created connections with our campus partners and enjoy collaborating on similar ideas.”

When asked if this latest round of budget cuts has been exceptional for UH Hilo, Sakai stated,

“Every time that we have had to reduce spending, we've had to make decisions which have required us to prioritize what we do… Examples of tough decisions include identifying which vacancies to fill when they come open and allocating positions to meet the campus needs.”

Editor’s Note: *If you are a student and/or an employee at UH Hilo and you would like to speak with us about how budget cuts are affecting your workplace or department, please email: amauch@hawaii.edu.