Enrollment at the University of Hawaii Maui College fell about 275 students to slightly more than 4,000 for the fall semester that started late last month.
Despite the decline, the 4,089 students enrolled this fall still ranked UH-Maui College as the largest Neighbor Island institution in the UH system by enrollment - even more than the University of Hawaii-Hilo, according to the university's Institutional Research and Analysis Office. The four-year university on the Big Island, which saw its enrollment fall 2.6 percent, had a fall enrollment of 4,058 students.
"We still have quite a few students here," said Stephen Kameda, UH-Maui College admissions office registrar. "It's not as much as last year, . . . but we have a large group of recent high school graduates and also the adults coming back for education."
As of Monday night's count, UH-Maui College logged a 6.5 decrease compared to last year's fall enrollment of 4,373 students. The decline in percentage was the second-largest among UH schools, only behind UH-Hawaii Community College, which dropped 6.6 percent to 3,429 students.
The UH system as a whole, which consists of seven community colleges and three universities, experienced a 5.3 percent enrollment drop, or more than 2,200 students. Only four institutions saw increases, including UH-West Oahu, which jumped 18.3 percent, or 370 students. The other three were Kauai, Leeward and Windward community colleges.
The flagship UH-Manoa saw a decline of 2.1 percent to 19,920 students this fall.
The systemwide trend of enrollment declines was no surprise to Kameda. In his experience, the numbers are driven largely by the state of the economy, he said.
"In the past, when the economy was not really good, we always got an increase in students," he said noting the recent recession. "For the last three or four years, a lot of community colleges experienced a tremendous increase in enrollment, but as the economy has gotten better, a lot of people tend to go back to work - especially when they have the experience they've earned at school."
Historical head counts proved Kameda's point. UH-Maui College has experienced a 37 percent enrollment increase since 2007, just before the beginning of the Great Recession, including a jolt of nearly a thousand more students about four years ago.
"We were always trying to recruit more students and develop a curriculum for them," he said. "But that was an unusual increase."
When asked if the enrollment decline affected offerings at UH-Maui College, Kameda could not point to any major changes in course offerings. He added that students in canceled classes would be accommodated.
The college has expanded its Degree-in-Three program, which offers evening and online classes for working students to obtain liberal arts associate degrees in three years. Nicole Beattie, UH-Maui College spokeswoman, said that the program is aimed at full-time and part-time working people seeking the degree that normally takes two years to earn.
"We were offering it on weekends but changed it to online and evenings to be more convenient for potential students," she said.
Although the college continues to recruit students, upgrade facilities and rework classes, Kameda emphasized that the decision to enroll in higher education will always be decided "at home," based upon resources and needs.
"When it comes to education, you look at the basic needs of your family and if the jobs are there it becomes a choice at home," he said. "I've talked with a lot of people who said they might have to postpone education until things are more stable with their family."
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at email@example.com.