Some graduate students at the University of Hawaii Manoa will get tuition cuts after the UH Board of Regents voted Thursday morning in favor of a new tuition schedule that also proposes tuition freezes for undergraduates in the 10-campus system.

UH Manoa graduate students will see tuition cuts of 2% for residents and 10% for out-of-staters as part of the schedule that will take effect in the 2020 school year and last until spring 2023. Graduate students in professional programs like law, medicine and business will also see a tuition freeze, but no tuition cuts.

There will still be a 1% to 2% tuition hike going into this fall semester before the freeze takes effect. 

Lee Putnam, chair of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents, which voted Thursday to cut tuition for graduate students at UH Manoa and freeze tuition for undergraduates systemwide. Blaze Lovell/CivilBeat

The board also required UH leadership to come back each year to present any adjustments to the tuition schedule.

“This has really been near and dear to my heart,” Regent Jan Sullivan said, adding that she started on the board in 2011 when she said the previous UH administration proposed aggressive budget increases.

Donald Straney, UH vice president for academic planning and policy, wrote in a memo to the board that the tuition cuts and freezes were intended to make UH more competitive.

Regent Michael McEnerney said that UH’s affordability might not be an issue.

“I don’t think there’s a causal relationship between tuition and enrollment,” he said.

Regent Jeff Portnoy said he supported the tuition cuts for the graduate students but not the tuition freezes through 2023 because of economic concerns. He also questioned the relationship between enrollment and tuition cuts and said UH should also look at Hawaii’s cost of living and the environment at each campus.

“We focus on tuition because it’s something the board can control,” Straney said in response to Portnoy.

Both McEnerney and Portnoy voted “no” on the proposal.

Board Chair Lee Putnam said shortly before the vote that tuition needed to be frozen until 2023 to allow potential students to budget ahead.

Tuition cuts for graduate students alone could amount to a $3.2 million revenue loss for the university. And the university projected that a 1 percent increase in revenue for undergraduates could amount to about $1.9 million a year that UH could miss out on with the tuition freezes.

The board deferred a similar proposal from UH leadership in January. In addition to the graduate tuition cuts, the proposal from January would have also rescinded the tuition hikes coming this fall, which will now take effect as originally planned.

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