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By Mark Brians. March 2, 2015 - 11:39 am
A bill introduced by Rep. Derek Kawakami in the state legislature would allocate resources to market Hawaii’s educational opportunities to prospective international students.
Numerous sources have tracked the decline of international students in Hawaii’s universities over the past few years. The bill introduced by Kawakami would seek to change that by funding marketing aimed at international students, and by working with local universities to increase their desirability for prospective international students.
A report done by Hawaii Public Radio (HPR) this week interviewed Sara Leide, an international student from Sweden, who will be graduating from HPU this spring.
HPU President Geoffrey Bannister was also interviewed in the HPR broadcast.
Bannister not only underlined the beneficial impact that international students have for the institutions at which they study, but also explained the massive impact that international students have on the local economy.
“I think Hawaii’s been so successful in bringing in tourists, but the necessity to bring in students hasn’t really been on the top of the agenda,” Bannister stated in an interview with HPR’s Molly Solomon. “When you already have 8 million visitors a year you tend not to look at the attraction of students as being as much of an economic boost as it really is.”
If passed the House Bill 775 (HB775) would appropriate $150,000 from the general revenues of the state of Hawaii “or so much thereof as may be necessary for fiscal year 2015-16.” The bill allows for the same sum to be appropriated the following fiscal year with the same recursive proviso as before.
The HB775 has passed two of its three committee readings and has been met both times with amendments, as well as testimonial support from a good number of the local community.
Judy Ensing, director of international programs at University of Hawai’i at Manoa, gave testimony in favor of the bill citing a brief history of international student populations in Hawai’i and on the US mainland.
She recalled that when she started in the late 1980s, “Our programs were bursting at the seams with Japanese students to the point that we had waiting lists.”
She lamented the drastic reduction in the number of international students at Hawaii higher educational facilities.
“At the same time,” she argued, “Whereas the number of students coming from other markets has increased in Mainland universities, we have not experienced the same growth.”
She identified that problem with recruitment is that foreign students don’t conceptualize Hawai’i as a place for study, but rather as a vacation destination only. This sentiment was attested to by a large majority of those who submitted testimony during the bill’s second reading in the Committee on Higher Education.
“We have to be very careful how we articulate the brand when we’re doing educational recruitment,” added Bannister.
If the only marketing about Hawai’i reaching the families of prospective international students are promises of luxury and relaxation, then, as Bannister explained, “parents are often skeptical that they’re coming here just to surf.” Therefore, it is imperative that the funds being spent highlight Hawai’i as more than just a travel destination.
Supporters of the bill add that in addition to the impact International students have on campus culture; their increased presence in Hawai’i could bring millions of much-needed dollars to the state.
“The return on investment” Kawakami said during an interview for HPR, “would be worth the money being spent.”
Photo courtesy of Prayitno Hadinat.