By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer
They began decades ago, one in an empty field in La'ie, another in an old WWII Army hospital on a hillside in Kaimuki, and one in a house in Nu'uanu with just a handful of students. Today they have grown to become the backbone of private higher education in Hawai'i.
Brigham Young University-Hawai'i, Chaminade University of Honolulu and Hawai'i Pacific University have all grown by leaps and bounds and are celebrating key anniversaries this year: BYU-Hawai'i and Chaminade are turning 50, and HPU is celebrating its 40th year.
Combined they educate nearly 14,000 students and contribute more than $200 million to the state economy each year, according to economist Lawrence Boyd of the University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu.
The three universities easily create approximately 5,000 jobs and more than $100 million in labor income, he said.
But they are more than facts and figures. For Brad Harrison, a vice president at First Hawaiian Bank, HPU is a family tradition.
After graduating with his bachelor's in 1985 and master's in 1995, Harrison went on to send two sons to HPU.
"I believe in HPU so much," said Harrison, who hopes his sons will continue the tradition by sending their sons.
The three universities have gone from graduating a handful of students during their first few years in existence to graduating hundreds annually today.
"All of them have made a positive impact on higher education in our state," said Colleen Sathre, vice president emeritus of the University of Hawai'i-Manoa. Sathre said each of these universities fills an important need in the higher education system.
"In general, they provide an alternative to the public higher education system," she said, adding that each school also appeals to specific niche markets.
Mark Oda, a counselor at Pearl City High School, said the attraction to private colleges has grown. Students are "attracted to the smaller classes and the unique affiliations of each school," Oda said.
"Students know they won't find aides teaching a class," he added.
But most of all, Oda said, students are drawn to the religious affiliation or mission offered by each school.
Brigham Young University-Hawai'i was begun in 1955 by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then called Church College of Hawaii. Today it has grown to a 100-acre hub of Polynesian culture.
Nearly 30 percent of of BYU-Hawai'i's 2,400 students are from Asia and the Pacific, and 45 percent are from the Mainland.
"We're a very diverse living laboratory for the world," said Eric Shumway, president of BYU-Hawai'i.
The university has committed to providing a learning environment for students from the Pacific islands who might not otherwise get an education, said Shumway. Through the Polynesian Cultural Center, he said, students from the Pacific can work and showcase their culture and pay for their education at the same time.
"It's good to know I won't owe anyone a penny," said Ruby Talaina, a BYU-Hawai'i student from Samoa who has worked at the center for the past three years.
"I am so grateful for everything they've given me," she said.
The La'ie school is in its 50th year, and while Shumway said there are no plans to expand physically, there are plans to add various graduate degree programs in social work and education.
"We like our size right now," Shumway said.
TEACHERS AND FAITH
Chaminade University of Honolulu, too, was founded a half-century ago, and has grown to become "the small university with big opportunities," said Sue Wesselkamper, Chaminade president.
After pulling out of a fiscal crisis in the mid-1990s and rebuilding undergraduate enrollment to the pre-slump level of 1,100, the Kaimuki campus continues to grow.
Chaminade is known locally for its teacher education program, one of the largest majors at the small college run by the Catholic Church's Marianist order. "There is not a school in the state without a Chaminade graduate" on its teaching staff, said Wesselkamper.
Jeannie Pinpin, a graduate student at Chaminade, said she was initially attracted to the university for its small class sizes and religious atmosphere.
"I felt it was important to stick with my faith and nourish my faith," she said.
Wesselkamper agreed that those two aspects of the university are its selling points. "Not all students would like it here — some would find it to be too small. But for the students who do go here, that is exactly what they are looking for," she said.
Next spring, Chaminade will break ground on a new library just behind Henry Hall. Wesselkamper said she also would like the university to grow to about 1,500 undergraduate students. "But no more than that ÷ we'd like to remain small," she said.
Hawai'i Pacific University opened in 1965 in a small house in Nu'uanu after its founders saw a need for a nonsectarian private college here. Today it is the largest private university in the state with two main campuses — downtown and windward Hawai'i Loa — with about 9,000 students
"What has made us unique is we were one of the first colleges or universities to adopt a mission to educate for global citizenship," said Chatt G. Wright, HPU president.
Harrison, the HPU alumnus, said he was initially attracted to HPU in the '80s, then called Hawaii Pacific College, for its small class sizes and international learning community. He said there is a difference in what HPU was and what it has become.
Today, "the quality of the education and the faculty is better," he said. "The school has developed a very good reputation in our community."
After its merger with Hawaii Loa College in 1992, and its affiliation with the Oceanic Institute in 2002, the faculty became more involved in research and scholarship, said Wright.
The university will begin to expand its Windward campus in three or four years to add a student center and more student housing, Wright said.
"I think Hawai'i Pacific's best days lie ahead," he said.
Reach Loren Moreno at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: Chaminade University reports total student enrollment, including undergraduate, graduate, online and military students, to be more than 2,000 students. Chaminade's enrollment number in a previous version of this story was incorrectly reported.