UH-Hilo working with firm to help recruit students

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald University of Hawaii at Hilo students transition between classes in 2018 on campus.

The University of Hawaii at Hilo has seen growth in the number of student applicants and acceptances during its current application cycle for the 2019 fall semester, thanks in part to work with an outside contractor.

UH-Hilo is in the second year of a five-year contract with EAB, a higher education consulting firm.

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Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Farrah-Marie Gomes said that in the higher education industry, there are many third-party vendors that provide specialized services to help institutions.

EAB is helping the university recruit students most likely to be successful in Hilo based on factors like location, types of programming offered, as well as the potential student’s GPA and test scores, according to Gomes. The focus is on increasing UH-Hilo’s reach in Hawaii and select western states.

According to Gomes, in the first part of the program, UH-Hilo works to establish relationships with high school sophomores and juniors, letting them know the type of programs offered at the university and opportunities available outside the classroom students might be interested in.

The second part, through EAB, assists seniors through the application process from start to finish.

This is the second year of the contract but the first year UH-Hilo has seen an impact from the efforts, said Gomes.

According to Gomes, as of Feb. 27, UH-Hilo has received 4,093 applications from interested students since the start of the application cycle last fall. That’s compared to 2,040 applications by that date last year.

“We weren’t surprised to see the numbers because that’s what the company told us to expect,” said Gomes. But the university is pleased with the results.

That increase in applications has translated also to an increase in the number of accepted applicants.

Not everyone who applies is accepted, said Gomes, but by Feb. 27, approximately 2,000 people have been accepted for the fall semester, compared to 1,430 students by that date last year, a 40 percent increase.

There are still 2,093 applications that are either still being processed or may have been processed and denied admission.

But significant increases in applicant and acceptance rates won’t necessarily mean similar increases in enrollment rates.

Enrollment has long been a challenge for the university, with UH-Hilo’s student population declining every year since 2012, when it peaked at 4,157 students after several years of growth.

Among the faculty, “we’ve always believed that if only more people knew about UH-Hilo, then more people would think about coming here, outside of Hilo and outside of the state of Hawaii,” interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai said of the effort during a recent meeting with members of the media. “So we will see with this contract how many of those applications actually convert into actual enrollment. We’ll see how successful that strategy will be.”

In an email provided by Gomes, Director of Admissions Zach Street said that UH-Hilo has expanded its outreach to potential students at an unprecedented level.

“We are seeing an amazing response to our outreach, both here in Hawaii and beyond — students seem to be inspired by UH-Hilo and what we offer.”

Street said such outreach typically draws more interest than actual enrollment early on, “so while we are seeing big increases in applications and interest, we expect moderate growth in freshman enrollment.”

Gomes shared those sentiments.

“We have every expectation that we will see an increase in the fall 2019 incoming class,” said Gomes. “What we don’t know yet is how much of an increase.”

While the number of applicants and accepted students “suggest we are moving in the right direction,” Gomes cautioned that UH-Hilo is not expecting such dramatic increases in fall enrollment.

The university’s target for fall 2019 is 3,500 students, she said, which would represent a 2.8 percent increase from last fall.

Gomes said the goal is to increase the number of acceptances by 50 percent over the last year to get that 2.8 percent enrollment growth.

“All we know is we’ve received more applications and accepted more students than ever before in a single application cycle,” said Gomes.

The official deadline for applications is July 1, “so there’s still quite a bit of time for people to submit more applications,” she said.

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A university spokesperson was unable to immediately provide the cost of EAB’s services citing confidentiality language in the contract.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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