Cost of Public Higher Education: A Community Forum

The Cost of Public Higher Education: A Community Forum

Forum Summary and Next Steps

This report summarizes the deliberations at The Cost of Public Higher Education Forum held on November 1, 2013 and follow-up discussions with the Council of Chancellors at its January 2014 meeting and at the UH Officers’ Retreat in February 2014 at which UH System Initiatives were identified for 2015-2020. Four recommendations have identified to improve the University’s cost performance while increasing the educational capital of the State and providing a world-class quality higher education for our students.


The community forum on the Cost of Public Higher Education, sponsored by the University of Hawai‘i (UH) Board of Regents (BOR) was held on November 1, 2013 from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm at the East West Center. The goal of the forum was to begin a conversation toward a shared understanding and commitment to an affordable high-quality public higher education system with appropriate measures of accountability.

BOR Chair John Holzman opened the forum and described the background and the concerns about the cost of higher education that led UH Regents to sponsor a public forum. He introduced keynote speakers Dennis Jones, President of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, and Jane Wellman, former director of the National Association of System Heads and the founding director of the Delta Cost Project.

Jones explored the revenue perspective and the shifts over time as state appropriations have declined and family tuition share has risen. His data provided a context for the day’s discussions by showing the variation among states in the relationship between revenue and credentials awarded as well as differences in cost per undergraduate credential produced. Wellman then focused on higher education cost drivers and spending, sharing themes from the national research about cost determinants and presenting examples for building cost effective paths to student success. (See Presentations box above.)

A question and answer session followed the speakers. The audience posed questions and comments about performance based budgeting; reasons that students do not complete college; value to society if a student drops out; higher cost of at-risk students; distance learning and cost; cost differences by discipline; and performance as a whole system.

A panel followed, with: Barry Taniguchi, President and CEO of KTA Super Stores (moderator); J.N. Musto, Executive Director of the UH Professional Assembly; Teena Rasmussen, Director of the Office of Economic Development, County of Maui and a past UH BOR member; and Jennifer Sabas, Director of the Daniel K. Inouye Institute.

UH thanked the panelists for joining in the day’s conversation about the tough questions facing Hawai‘i and public higher education, and their willingness to share their perspectives as business, union, and community leaders. Panelists were invited to respond to the query, “How can UH better meet the needs of the community?”

Panelists noted that UH is educating students to be citizens of the world, not just for Hawai‘i, and must prepare students for the future through comprehensive education and with international students. Panelists also observed that higher education can learn from businesses, for example, by using real time data to make decisions and act more quickly, or by cost shifting. They advised that higher education partner with business and that we need to cooperate as a community and carry forth Hawai‘i’s firm legacy and belief in education and in UH.

Approximately 140 people attended the morning sessions. In the afternoon, UH Executive Vice President/Provost Linda Johnsrud described the quandary of “the new normal” that besets U.S. higher education as it faces demands to enroll more students and produce more degrees that are high quality and globally competitive, during a time when institutions have less revenue.

Forum participants, divided into five breakout groups, were invited to think about new models for higher education, questioning tradition, assumptions, and structures. Breakout groups were charged with discussing challenges facing higher education in Hawai‘i and how UH can better meet the state’s need for more graduates while increasing cost effectiveness and quality and better communicate with the public.

Each of the five breakout groups recorded their discussions in a “UH Should” list, then ranked their top three priorities. At the end of the day, all breakout groups reconvened in a plenary session to report the results of their discussions. A summary of the input from the breakout groups is included as an attachment to this Report. In closing, Interim President David Lassner stated that a summary of the forum and recommendations for next steps would be forthcoming.

At the November 21, 2013 Board of Regents meeting, Linda Johnsrud, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs/Provost (EVPAA/P) reported on the forum. The Office of the EVPAA/P was charged with developing a plan and implementing next steps, including:

  • Writing a summary report that includes recommendations from forum participants;
  • Continuously moving forward toward the goals of the forum by working with institutional leadership to develop next steps, timelines, and efficiency indicators.
  • Planning and executing follow-up reporting on the cost of higher education; and
  • Enabling the Board to report back to the community based on the input from the November 1 Forum.


The substantive content of the Forum was used in discussions and consultations with the Council of Chancellors in January and then at the UH Officers’ retreat in February. Four recommendations were developed to improve the University’s cost performance while upholding the goal of increasing the educational capital of the state and providing a world-class quality higher education for our students. These recommendations are fully consistent with other major institutional initiatives.