Slices of Tuition Pie

A brief breakdown of UH Hilo tuition and fees

Staff Writer Elijah Kahula

Spread sheet with tuition. Screenshot of information, also available at

The promise of higher education, a well-paid position, and credentials to work in the professional field of their dreams are just some of the reasons that draw thousands of students to UH Hilo every year to spend their hard-earned money toward fulfilling their degree. When you hand your tuition UH Hilo’s Cashier’s Office, do you know where that money is going? How do you know that your tuition dollars are being spent to benefit you and the student population as a whole? Ke Kalahea talked to some of the top administration and student-funded organization leaders to answer the question: how are your tuition and fees used?

If you’re the average full-time UH Hilo student living in the state, the university predicts that you’d spend $19,390-$30,558 dollars, depending on your living situation, to put yourself through a year of college. For reference, the median income per capita income for Hawaii residents was $33,882, according to the US Census Bureau. In UH Hilo’s 2018-19 Estimated Student Budget for Full-Time Students, the University also estimates that those dollar amounts for non-resident students jumps as high as $43,518 for someone living with roommates off-campus, with tuition alone costing $20,232. Finally, for Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE), at the rate of 1.5 times the in-state tuition, is estimated at $23,026-$34,194, all living expenses included.

The figures above may be on the high side. It is worth considering that 55 percent of full-time students receive financial aid in the form of Pell Grants. While the costs of expenses like housing, books for classes, and transportation can be somewhat controlled and mitigated by spend-thrifty students, a number that stays unaffected is the cost per credit for classes (aside from a student’s residency status). Another is the mandatory fees going to campus organizations and student services.

With 12 credits per semester, in-state tuition at UH Hilo was $7,272 for 2018-19 (as stated above, this figure more than doubles for students from out of state). Mandatory fees for those who attend classes on campus are $448 per year, covering Chartered Student Organizations’ (CSOs) budgets and on-campus student services such as the Student Life Center and Student Medical Services. While CSOs operate under Campus Center, the student services are under the purview of the office of the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs.

The fees incurred by UH Hilo students are split up to fund various campus organizations. Mandatory fees add up to $81, which goes to Chartered Student Organizations (CSOs), excluding the Student Activities Council, which is a CSO in a separate category of on-campus fees, since it only organizes events on campus, while the other organizations are designed to benefit students regardless of whether they actually attend campus classes (as opposed to, for instance, online or remote classes.)

Each student pays $28.50 to Student Publications, which is expended by the Board of Student Publications (BOSP). BOSP funds Ke Kalahea, the student news magazine, Hohonu, the academic magazine/journal, and Kanilehua, UH Hilo’s art and literary magazine. The Student Association fees of $28.50 go to fund UH Hilo’s Student Association, a student government equivalent that, as they state on their website, acts “as a liaison between the student body and the college administration through active collaboration with faculty, the University Board of Regents, the State Legislature, and campus student organizations.” The media broadcasting fee of $24 is used by the Board of Media Broadcasting, under which the student-run UH Hilo radio station operates, as well as Vulcan Video Productions, which lets students learn how to make high-quality videos.

Ke Kalahea interviewed Board of Student Publications vice chairperson Hannah Pavao and secretary Ciarra-Lynn Parinas to gain an account of how these student-funded organizations handle your fees. Though formerly available on their website, their budget, along with those of other CSOs, are available to the public upon request. Their budget for Student fees for this academic year was $255,765.48, a number arrived to from adding the student fees generated from this year ($190,068) with unspent monies that carried over from before the previous year ($64,000.98). Lastly, some ad revenue to the order of $1,710 generated through Ke Kalahea’s print magazines contributes a sliver to their budget, though Pavao says this goes directly back to Ke Kalahea.

The Student Life Center, which takes the heftiest slice of fees at $78 per student per semester, provides a gym and pool for students, as well as a instructional programs and trips, including a very popular scuba certification class. According to SLC director Timothy “Tim” Moore, more than 70 percent of these fees go to employing student workers.

Pavao says that to make sure the budgets are spent responsibly, the UH Hilo business office has the final judgment of whether the budget can be justified. First, the budget goes through Campus Center’s fiscal clerk Matt Kalahiki, who serves as a liaison between the CSOs and the business office. From there, the BOSP members said, the business office assesses whether their budget justification falls in line with the CSO’s goals, which is to provide the best-possible quality of publication to the students on campus.

For Student Activities Council (SAC) Executive Chairperson Kimberly Hutchinson says that it’s generally easier for them than other CSOs to spend their funds at the end of the year. Their mission is to provide “programs, activities and services which serve the co-curricular cultural, social, recreational and educational interests” of students at UH Hilo. She says that in the past, the goal of social interaction has been more heavily emphasized that the other parts of the mission, so this year they tried to make sure that educational and cultural interests were incorporated in their programs to balance out the social aspects.

While a wide range of items are justifiable (there is catering or food items in bulk at almost every event of theirs, and, often, contests or door prizes), there are certain restrictions that one may not expect to be prohibited. One such category is known as “personal care items,” such as tissues or hand soap. Hutchinson says an example of the request that was denied was blinds for their office in Campus Center 301. UHHSA successfully equipped their office with blinds to deal with issues such as sun exposure and highly-distracting foot traffic. SAC’s office, being upstairs in the shade with a small fraction of the foot traffic coming through Campus Center, was deemed unjustified in the request.

UH Hilo’s budget comes from two primary sources: tuition and fees paid by students, and the State General Fund, which is allocated by the state of Hawaiʻi’s legislators. For 2018, the budget was $36,283,617 from the general fund. Tuition and fees came to slightly less, at $34,485,668, making up 40 percent of UH Hilo’s total funds of $85,279,352. Since these two sources are combined with other funds to create an operating budget for the University, it is difficult to track tuition dollars directly to the services and payroll they provide.

Actual expenditures offered smaller numbers than the budget in 2018. Of that $85,279,352, $79,921,039 was actually spent in the 2018 fiscal year. $50,386,422 went to the cost of personnel, with other expenses totaling $30,201,431. In UH Hilo’s publicly available list of expenditures from the 2018 fiscal year, the other expenses category is further split into utilities, scholarships/tuition, and a widely-encompassing “other operating expenses” line.

Through a series of email exchanges and an in-person interview with Ke Kalahea, Kalei Rapoza, UH Hilo’s Interim Vice Chancellor of Administrative Affairs, provided commentary and explanations as to how UH Hilo tuition is used. Rapoza’s job, as he explained, is to deal with all the “backbone things” on campus. “If the AC goes out and it’s not fixed tomorrow, people won’t be happy,” he laughed.

The criticism of inflating administrative costs in education is something Rapoza says he’s heard in the various positions he’s held, and in even more so in light of a decreasing budget. Even so, UH Hilo seems to have a lower administrator-instructor ratio to similar colleges, according to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). It was estimated that for every $100 in instructional costs, the bulk of which is instructor and professor payroll, UH Hilo spends about $14 dollars in administrative costs. This ratio is lower, however, than a group of UH Hilo’s peer schools, according to ACTA.

All of the 17 executive managerial positions at UH Hilo receive 6-figure salaries, according to University of Hawaiʻi Professional Assembly’s website, adding up to $2,623,800. The Interim Chancellor, Marcia Sakai, sits at the top of the list at $250,008, followed closely not by the Vice Chancellor, but by Carolyn Ma, dean of UH Hilo’s College of Pharmacy. From there, executive salaries range from Vice Chancellor Farrah-Marie Gomes’ $171,004 down to ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center’s executive director, Leslie Kaʻiu Kimura at $103,664. On the other hand, UH Manoa rockets past these figures in executive managerial salary; there, highest paid positions descend from $537,240, a salary earned by UH Manoa School of Medicine’s dean, Dr. Jerris Hedges.

Besides the basic operating budget that is published by UH Hilo to be reviewed by the public, along with key publicly-available salaries, the specifics of the items that comprise the multi-million dollar figures in our budget are relatively difficult to come by. Rapoza said, “There are thousands of transactions every year. We could run a report on those, but it still wouldn’t be very detailed. A comprehensive request would take half a year, maybe, to go through all those documents.” This means statistics and figures on how tuition breaks down by department, for instance, isn’t readily apparent for students. Still, Rapoza says that with cutbacks of the budget, as well as declining enrollment in recent years due to volcanic activity., he and other administrators have tried harder to pay close attention to students to make sure their spending is aligned with student interests.

For all the facts, figures, and explanations expressed above, a reader may start to imagine the UH Hilo budget is an immense topic with many moving parts. While Ke Kalahea can provide only an overview to these parts, we hope that student readers will come away with a piqued curiosity of how their money is used by the institution, and organizations, in charge of our education.

Disclosure of Conflict of interest: As a staff writer for Ke Kalahea, I am in a position under the Board of Student Publications, which I reported on in this article.