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Faculty, SGA meetings offer insight into HPU’s future

    By Dane Stein. February 26, 2013 - 10:52 am

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Student Body President Collin Parran discusses Student Fees at the February 15 Town Hall. Photo: Dane Stein

The university faces a $5 million budget shortfall brought on by declining enrollment that President Geoffrey Bannister said was “not unexpected,” but “we should have foreseen it better than we did.”

Bannister spoke with faculty at a Hawaii Loa campus town hall meeting on Feb. 16.

Tuition is rising again in 2013 despite $65 million in endowment and $120 million in tax-free bonds from the state to meet strategic priorities.

“We live off tuition,” Bannister told the faculty. He also said the current budget shortfall could “affect staff hiring and compensation.”

Bannister mentioned several strategies to resuscitate the university, including a renewed focus on the business school, which once defined the university’s presence in the Pacific.

HPU’s nursing program, which once enjoyed robust enrollment, has seen a decline in students in recent years as demand for nurses falls nationwide, Bannister said.

And the opening of UH West O‘ahu in Kapolei has diverted commuter students with education closer to home. Bannister said he saw these developments as an opportunity to make HPU a “smaller, better institution.”

HPU is due to submit an interim report to its accrediting body, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Bannister said. A comprehensive accreditation visit is set for fall 2015.

Enrollment has fallen from 6,000 to 5,000 students over the past six years, not counting military campus programs. This statistic, combined with only 39 percent of undergraduate students successfully graduating within six years, has led both the Student Government Association and faculty to examine ways to improve numbers across the board.

Stephanie Jarrett, lead coordinator for student mentor programs at HPU, said in a late 2012 interview that she believes “student involvement, relationships with faculty inside and outside the classroom, and utilization of university services and resources are contributors to retention.”

SGA Chairman James Cavin also has mentioned housing, parking, campus feel, sense of ownership and support from student programs as contributing factors toward keeping students enrolled.

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Faculty and Staff discuss Student Fees and Facilities concerns. Photo by: Dane Stein

Bannister said at the town hall meeting that HPU needs to raise the quality of the institution by “improving faculty, improving the curriculum, improving housing opportunities and recruiting high-quality students” as well as more international students, especially from Asia.

Improving HPU’s technological resources was also among the priorities Bannister mentioned at the faculty town hall and on his blog, on which he noted the availability of a Skype room in the Sea Warrior Center as well as efforts to improve group study room reservations and virtual desktop storage.

HPU recently received approval to proceed with plans to develop the second level of Aloha Tower Marketplace into student “lofts.” Earlier this year, the case nearly went to arbitration as HPU attempted to buy out the remaining 20 percent control of the site from Aloha Tower Development Corp.

The issue that stalled the plan involved the use of tax-free bonds for development: A nonprofit organization like HPU could not share ownership with a for-profit organization. The project also includes development of other student facilities, the use of which will be determined by the changing relationship between the SGA and university leadership.

The SGA, which is seeking greater student representation in university decisions that some members have said suffer from a “lack of transparency,” held its own town hall meeting Feb. 15 to get students’ reaction to a new proposal of student activity fees.

Attendees said that more activities are not necessary, just ones that are “better-quality.”

Groups such as the SGA, registered student organizations and commuter programs stand to benefit from the proposed student fees, which discussion at the meeting indicated might range from $25 per semester for part-time undergraduate students to $50 for full-time.