By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Staff Writer
University of Hawaii administrators will resurrect a plan that died last year in a cloud of controversy: raising tuition about 3 percent each year for the next five years, bringing Hawaii more in line with the national average.
The proposal would raise the cost of one year of undergraduate tuition at UH-Manoa from $3,024 for Hawaii residents this academic year to $3,504 by 2006.
Graduate students, out-of-state residents and students at UHs nine other campuses would also pay more for tuition. The current national average for tuition and fees for four-year public universities is $3,362.
The increase would raise $2 million to $3 million each year, about $10 million to $15 million total. Officials say they would direct the money to help pay for classroom computers, new software in labs and libraries, and maintenance on the information technology system across the UH campuses.
UH officials will review the proposal with students in January and February before bringing the plan to the Board of Regents in March.
Officials hope to find a drastically different reaction than they did this time last year when campus frustrations spilled over into angry rhetoric and protests surrounding a proposed tuition increase.
The tuition debate occurred shortly after the controversial Rice v. Cayetano decision was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, angering many Native Hawaiian students on campus. At the same time, the university was starting to deal with the academic and cultural clash on Mauna Kea, where some of the worlds most powerful telescopes are located on land considered sacred by Hawaiians.
Dozens of students took part in an overnight rally and spoke against the tuition increase at the regents meeting. The board overwhelmingly voted it down.
The rejection was seen as the final straw for embattled UH President Kenneth Mortimer, who had worked on the tuition proposal for months and saw it as essential to proving that the university could move closer to raising more of its money rather than being so dependent on the state. He announced his resignation later that spring.
If this proposal passes, it will be the first tuition increase for the UH system since 1999, when Manoa students paid about 3.3 percent more than the year before. In 1997, tuition was increased by $264 a year and in 1996, the first year the Legislature gave the university control over its tuition money, tuition for UH undergraduates was increased by 50 percent, or $385 a year.
"No one ever likes to pay more for anything," said Colleen Sathre, UH vice president for planning and policy. "I think theyll find out the proposal is sound. The increases are modest."
More answers this time
The proposal is in line with tuition increases at other state universities across the country and is similar to the one rejected in 2000. But last year when the proposal surfaced, administrators couldnt tell students how that extra money would be spent, adding to the frustration voiced on campus.
"The best I could tell them was that it would keep things from being worse," Sathre said. "We were taking significant budget cuts. Students didnt like to hear that."
Association of Students President Chris Garnier said administrators will likely find less emotion on campus about the tuition increase this spring.
"A lot of people think its inevitable," Garnier said. "Theres not going to be a protest. President Mortimer is not going to have to call out the SWAT team. It wont be like last year."
Sathre said administrators expect opposition from Manoas Graduate Student Organization, however.
Manoas graduate students in the professional programs would take the biggest hit in the pocketbook. Business students would pay 22 percent more each year, law students would pay 6 percent more, medical students 4.2 percent more and nursing students 3.8 percent more each year.
Paying by the credit
Community college students would not see any tuition increase for the first two years, but would have to start paying for school based on a per-credit-hour system. Students who take more than 12 credit hours a semester pay only for the first 12 hours now; under the new plan they would have to pay the cost of all of their credit hours.
State Rep. Mark Takai, a member of the House Higher Education Committee, said UH has moved beyond the lean budget years of the 1990s. Spending the tuition money on computers and technology is a good idea, as long as students can be promised that it wont be used to make up for a shortfall in state general revenue money, he said.
"Moderate tuition increases every year is a good policy," Takai said. "Its better than not raising it for years and then having a big jump."
Regent Ah Quon McElrath said she would have to wait for public discussion and debate among the board before weighing in on the proposal. The regents are still reading through the tuition schedule themselves, she said.
"It would be unfair to comment on it before weve had any discussion or been able to digest the whole thing," McElrath said. "My God, you should see the document. Its half an inch thick."
Cory Brailsford, a freshman in political science, wasnt happy to hear about the proposal. "I say no. I think tuition is already high," he said. "Were not a rich state."
Bruce Breeze, a marine zoology major, said the Manoa campus needs more parking and better dorms instead. He said he is opposed to the tuition increase.
"We dont need more computers," he said. "I think they need it more at the community colleges. Everyone at my dorm, practically, has a computer. Ive got one. You have to."
But Emily Krause, a freshman oceanography major, said administrators should push for the tuition increase. The $480 dollar per year increase didnt seem too high to her.
"If its going to go for a good cause, thats fine," Krause said. "Four hundred dollars for a college degree is not that much. As long as its not going to be spent on something like sports then I would be peeved."
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