Once again the Government Affairs Committee (GAC) and Economic Development Committee (EDC) teamed up in a joint meeting in January. This time our guest speaker was Hawai‘i Community College (HCC) Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas as we focused on impacts recently announced budget cuts may have on HCC. Chancellor Solemsaas outlined a number of steps under consideration including consolidation across the 7 campus community college system, reduction in staffing, programmatic adjustments, and revenue generation. The proposed 23 million dollar budget reduction (11%) over FY21-22 will be distributed across the community college system through extensive restructuring and other measures as opposed to a simple pro rata basis. If a proportionate cut is made to HCC’s budget, 11% amounts to ~$3M that would be spread across HCC branches in Hilo, Pālamanui in Kona, and Kō Education Center in Honoka’a.
Operational consolidation across campuses includes financial aid/management, admissions, human resources, etc. Combined, significant FTEs are dedicated to these core administrative functions across campuses hence looking at ways to minimize duplication of effort and reassign workloads based upon the distribution of expertise and other factors at each campus is underway. Beyond streamlining administrative efforts, realigning and reorganizing educational programs across campuses is being explored as a means of maximizing educational strengths of various programs, meeting educational needs island-by-island, and reducing duplicated efforts. This implies a higher and long lasting dependence on distance learning as students on one island may substantially rely on teachers on another island to provide educational content. Balancing that mode of education while also providing important hands on learning experiences will be a challenge, but not all campuses can provide as many programs as they have in the past and this “rewiring” is needed to help reduce redundancies and associated costs. This means an even greater reliance on digital services, and makes it even more important to eliminate the digital divide across Hawai‘i, particularly on Hawai‘i Island which has widely separated rural communities and too often sparse internet access. Other measures under evaluation include optimizing rent vs. lease arrangements, seeking additional grants, and consolidating physical space where mutually practical and beneficial between UH Hilo and HCC.
Extensive discussions across the HCC network have guided planning to date, consistent with the concept of Kauhale or “Hawai‘ian village” supporting a vibrant ‘ohana of students, staff, and community. The importance of communications under times of change is enormous, to guide decision making processes and help ensure all those affected by changes understand their details and possible impacts. It is important that our Hawai‘i Island community continues to provide support and advocacy for our community colleges, given how much our future depends on the crucial education resources these facilities offer. In particular, despite growing distance learning trends, maintaining hands on education and training is essential in many areas. This “ground support” included supplemental instruction, academic and student support, infrastructure, etc. and cannot be entirely replaced with digital learning. A combination of closing digital divides across our communities while sustaining in situ learning opportunities and resources will be important for our community college campuses to meet the needs of students and successfully navigate these budget cuts.
Our monthly EDC meetings occur on the third Thursday of each month at 11:30 and our next guest speaker will be the Hawai‘i County Research &Development Director Doug Adams. Given the emphasis on COVID relief and economic rebuilding, Doug’s role is incredibly important so feel free to join us for what I am sure will be another interesting meeting if you can!