As Kapiolani Community College prepares to welcome students for the fall semester next week, it’s doing some considerable belt-tightening that will mean fewer courses, lecturers and temporary employees.

Once the largest community college in the University of Hawaii system, KCC has faced declining enrollment for a decade. Now it is having to make major adjustments to make up for a $2.1 million budget deficit as a result of waning tuition dollars in the 2020 fiscal year, which began on July 1.

“It’s probably the most difficult thing I’ve had to face,” KCC Chancellor Louise Pagotto told administrators at a recent Chancellor’s Advisory Council meeting on the KCC campus.

Chancellor of Kapiolani Community College Louise Pagotto during budget meeting held at KCC.
KCC Chancellor Louise Pagotto talks to administrators during a budget meeting. The school has had to make “serious adjustments” in order to balance this year’s budget, Pagotto told department chairs in a July 25 letter. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

KCC’s predicament is not unique: community colleges typically see a drop in enrollment when the economy is strong and unemployment is low. Five of the seven community colleges in Hawaii have seen a decrease in student body size after reaching peak levels during the recession.

But the Diamond Head campus has experienced one of the steepest drops in enrollment in the last 10 years, winnowing down to just over 6,000 students in 2018 from a peak of 9,301 students in 2010.

Despite this downward trend, KCC has failed to adjust its personnel count, causing some employees to fret over its long-range plan to remain financially stable instead of relying on a band-aid measure.

“Right now the game plan is cutting,” noted Jeff Zuckernick, chair of KCC’s Emergency Medical Services division. “When will a plan be presented to increase enrollment? That’s what I’m curious about.”

Potential Class Closures

Although there are no plans to cut full-time faculty, the biggest changes will impact student hires, temporary positions that are not funded through legislative appropriations and so-called “casual hires,” which are non-union, non-benefit positions that are renewed at 89-day intervals.

After spending $826,000 last year on student employees, the college plans to cut 329 such positions this year, for a cost savings of $452,000.

The college also plans to cut five casual hires in areas like student services and academic support and a dozen temporary unbudgeted positions, including in student services and academic support.

In an email, KCC Staff Council Chair Craig Spurrier said he was “very disappointed” with the decision to cut casual hire and temporary positions.

“These positions have been providing important services to our campus for several years,” he said. “We are very concerned these cuts will have a negative impact on our ability to serve students and staff.”

Additionally, KCC will require all classes have a minimum two-thirds fill rate as it attempts to hold departments to a total cap of $3.8 million in lectureship spending. This is the same allocation provided in 2018, but the school far exceeded its budget last year, spending $5.3 million, according to Pagotto.

Still, exceptions to the minimum fill rate could be made.

“There are classes that will have to be offered even though they’re not two-thirds full,” she told Civil Beat. “Our goal is not to bottleneck students and delay progress through degree programs.”

KCC, whose signature programs remain hospitality and culinary arts — the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Diamond Head opened in a gleaming new facility two years ago — is the only place in the state to offer certification in emergency medical technician services, physical therapy and occupational therapy, for instance.

Of the 668 classes offered in the Arts & Sciences department, only 456 were two-thirds full as of Aug. 15 leaving more than 200 on the possible chopping block.

Tuition and fees account for about half of KCC’s $43 million revenue, with the other half consisting mainly of state funding.

The campus, which awards associate degrees and offers both credit and non-credit programs, is the largest transfer institution to UH Manoa of all the community colleges.

Arts and Sciences Dean Nawa'a Napoleon goes over numbers during Kapiolani Community College Budget cut meeting.
KCC Arts and Sciences Dean David Napoleon said the school will surpass 6,000 in enrollment this fall. “I didn’t think we were going to get there,” he told administrators during an Aug. 15 budget meeting. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

To alleviate its financial challenges, the school will not be required this year to contribute its usual $900,000 to the UH system-wide “performance funding model,” Pagotto said at the August 15 meeting. That system awards schools meeting certain performance-based outcomes, like total degrees and certificates awarded and transfers into four-year institutions, with funds from that pool.

KCC only recovered $119,000 last year due to its inability to hit all the targets.

Demographic Changes

Another challenge facing KCC is demographic trends, according to UH Spokesman Dan Meisenzahl.

Migration to the west side has contributed to higher enrollment at Leeward Community College, now the largest of all the community colleges, as more families leave aging communities like Kaimuki, he said. LCC, he pointed out, also has a robust partnership with the Hawaii Department of Education through programs like Early College, which gives high schoolers the opportunity to gain college credit.

For now, the long-range recruitment plan for KCC will continue to include outreach at local high schools, as well as local and international educational fairs in countries like Japan and China to boost international student enrollment, according to Pagotto.

KCC has historically enjoyed one of the highest international student enrollments among the colleges — they account for about 10% of its student body, compared with 5% in the entire UH system.

“The university (system) has been increasingly more focused on looking for ways to increase the opportunities and attractions for non-U.S. students,” Meisenzahl said, pointing out that international students pay higher tuition rates and therefore supply greater revenue.

Although KCC is the only community college facing such steep cuts this year, UH Chief Financial Affairs Office Kalbert Young says community colleges across the state will need to adjust their offerings to meet the highest level of demand and “provide other programs sustainably.”

“Which means bluntly … that it’s absolutely prudent to downsize those programs,” he said.

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