With all the natural amenities of island life, you might think that Hawaii would attract a higher percentage of out-of-state college students than most other places.
But that’s not necessarily the case.
About 29 percent of students at the University of Hawaii’s flagship Manoa campus are nonresidents (including those from other countries), lower than many other universities, according to CollegeXpress.
University policy allows up to 35 percent of its total students at UH Manoa, West Oahu and Hilo to be nonresidents.
Some legislators think the university should do more to recruit out-of-staters, considering that before financial aid they pay nearly $33,000 per year on tuition — $22,000 more than residents who pay about $11,000 a year.
Some programs rely on out-of-state tuition for their financial survival, said Rep. Isaac Choy, pointing to UH Hilo’s College of Pharmacy. The program would need about 80 percent nonresident tuition to be self-sustaining, he said, but about 40 percent of students enrolled are nonresidents.
“Exporting education is something that should be looked into as an economic driver for the state,” Choy said.
One in five students attending the Manoa campus last semester was from the mainland, according to enrollment statistics.
Sen. Kai Kahele, chair of the Higher Education Committee, would like to see more out-of-state students enroll at UH to increase ethnic diversity on campus and provide more opportunities to make connections with people from elsewhere.
Kahele said enrollment has declined at all campuses except UH West Oahu. Enrollment fluctuates with the economy, he said, but it could be worthwhile to re-evaluate UH’s marketing budget.
“The economic impact goes far beyond a student coming to Hawaii to get a degree,” he said, noting that families of students who come to visit their kids and graduates may return.
UH relies on high school visits, college fairs and transfer fairs to attract students from the mainland, said university spokesman Dan Meisenzahl. Admissions employees are especially active in California, Washington, Colorado, Arizona and Washington, D.C., he said.
Of mainland students enrolled at UH Manoa in fall 2016, 56 percent were from the Western U.S., data shows.
Profit from higher tuition rates is a consideration in UH’s efforts to recruit out-of-state students, but the priority is to make UH campuses more diverse, Meisenzahl said.
UH is well-known elsewhere for its marine biology, oceanography and astronomy programs, he said, and wants to attract top students for those disciplines. Though UH is isolated in the middle of the Pacific, Meisenzahl said it appeals to those who are interested in “east meeting west,” and studying certain ethnic groups.
“We need international students, we need students from the continental United States, we need students from different backgrounds so while they’re interacting with their fellow students and faculty, they’re sharing these experiences,” he said. “And even though you’re here in Hawaii, you’re still getting an international type of experience and worldview.”
Nearly three-fifths of UH students from the mainland attend the Manoa campus. Mainland students make up 21 percent of UH Manoa’s student body, but comprise 46 percent of dorm residents.
To help all new students adjust, Meisenzahl said the campus’s Student Housing Services hosts welcome week events and orientations. Student Housing hosts late night events two or three times per month, and cultural and diversity awareness events are also held, he said.
Meisenzahl wrote in an email that UH Manoa admission requirements are the same for freshman residents and nonresidents, but nonresident transfers must have a 2.5 GPA — higher than the 2.0 required of transferring residents.
Overall, more than a quarter of graduate students and 10 percent of undergraduate students across UH’s 10 campuses are from the mainland, enrollment data shows.
As of fall 2016, 11 percent of all UH students came from out-of-state (5,075 students) and 5 percent (2,154 students) were from a foreign country, the data shows.
Source: UH Institutional Research & Analysis Office, BYU-Hawaii, Hawaii Pacific University, Chaminade University Office of Institutional Research
If financial aid and scholarships are not considered, the average full-time, nonresident student at UH Manoa spends about $48,000 per year on tuition, books, room and board, and other expenses (depending on a student’s major), according to Meisenzahl.
The Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism hasn’t studied the economic impact of out-of-state students since a November 1998 report, said Eugene Tian, chief state economist. That study found out-of-state students spent $140 million on education-related expenses like tuition and room and board in 1997 — up $33 million from five years earlier.
Nonresident tuition at UH Manoa is now three and a half times higher than it was at the time of the original survey.
DBEDT does, however, market to international students and measures their economic impact annually. A 2016 report found 12,194 international students in Hawaii spent $301.9 million on their education.
Dennis Ling, administrator of DBEDT’s Business Development and Support Division, said tracking the economic impact of students from the mainland should be the school’s responsibility, not the state’s, since DBEDT doesn’t market UH to mainland students.
DBEDT initiated its international student marketing campaign by reaching out to schools, Ling said, and convening a discussion group.
The “international (education) front is new but has strong potential,” he said, adding that schools already have successful strategies for attracting mainland students.
Even if DBEDT were to track the economic impact of out-of-state students, Ling said there could be some unique challenges. For one, international students don’t have access to U.S. scholarships and financial aid — just financial aid from their home country — so it could be harder for schools to gauge exactly how much out-of-state students pay in tuition.
Ling added that students who live in Hawaii for a year are eligible to declare residency and pay in-state tuition rates (if they go to school part-time for a year), so any surveys would also have to account for changes in residency.
UH campuses bring the state’s largest share of mainland students, but other Hawaii universities also draw students from the mainland, sometimes at higher percentages.
At Hawaii Pacific University, 30 percent of fall 2016 students were from the mainland, according to enrollment data. According to Chaminade University’s website, 22 percent of fall 2016 students were out-of-state. BYU-Hawaii statistics from February 2016 show half of students were from the mainland.
Greg Grauman, HPU vice president of enrollment management, said HPU employs three mainland recruiters who meet students for regional interviews and visit high schools and college fairs.
Students from 65 countries and all states are enrolled at HPU, he said.
It’s important for mainland students and university staff to get to know each other during recruitment, since students are considering a long-distance move, Grauman said.
“I think certainly we know that here on-island we have a lot of diversity, but we think it’s important we have students from all 50 states,” he said, adding that class discussions are enriched from “diversity of thought.”