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Office of the President
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Honolulu, HI 96822

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UH: Helping to Bridge Hawai‘i’s Recession

Published in the Honolulu Advertiser December 14, 2008

It’s often said that a recession is when your neighbor loses her job, and a depression is when you lose yours.

As peaks on the economic charts turn into valleys, a growing number of Hawai‘i residents know someone who has been laid off or, worse, have been laid off themselves.

Many of those laid off have turned to the University of Hawai‘i to improve their job skills in hopes of starting on a new career path that would take them towards a better future for themselves and their families. Our fall enrollment is up nearly 3,000, particularly at our community colleges, to an all-time high of 53,500.

Transforming lives and breaking down barriers both economic and social is what we do every day at UH—and it’s this commitment that makes the University of Hawai‘i part of the solution to the state’s economic problems.

First there’s the matter of sheer scale. Taken together, our 10 campuses from Lihu‘e to Hilo, along with dozens of education, workforce training and scientific research centers statewide, make us by far the largest higher education provider in Hawai‘i. We employ well over 10,000 employees.

Then there’s the quality of our work. Our research enterprise—UH Manoa is one of the top 25 public research universities in the nation—brings nearly $400 million and thousands of high-quality jobs to Hawai‘i while also supporting local residents and industries, attracting emerging businesses and producing technologies that benefit the state. Even as federal funding has plateaued, UH researchers have continued to gain market share.

One example is UH Manoa’s Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute, recently selected to establish one of two National Marine Renewable Energy Centers by the U.S. Department of Energy. Through this new center, $1 million per year for up to five years will be available to conduct renewable energy research and development of technologies that harness the power of waves and ocean thermal energy conversion.

Overall, UH pumps nearly $2 billion into the state’s economy every year. With the usual economic “multiplier” effects, UH’s direct and indirect impact likely totals $3 billion.

UH provides an important source of economic momentum and stability at a time when other sectors, such as tourism, are having difficulty.

In addition, UH can help shorten the recession in four important ways.

First, the university’s biennium budget calls for over $350 million in capital renewal and deferred maintenance of our facilities, as part of our $600-million-plus capital improvements budget. These infrastructure projects are already identified, involve little in the way of permitting and are ready to launch now—just the kind of economic stimulus recommended by President-elect Barack Obama. When under way, these general-obligation bond-funded projects will produce—or protect—thousands of jobs.

Second, to turbocharge this spending and shorten implementation delays, we’re requesting more flexibility in procurement from the governor and legislature. Third, we’re also requesting $250 million in authority to issue our own bonds, funded by our own revenues, to build more student and faculty housing.

Finally, in January, the university will celebrate a ground blessing of a new UH West O‘ahu campus in Kapolei; work on off-site infrastructure has already commenced. This $100-million-plus project will serve as an economic stimulus for the region and the state, providing more immediate construction jobs and bringing higher education closer to the underserved West O‘ahu region.

The people, projects and programs of the University of Hawai‘i are providing a bridge across the valley of recession to a brighter, more productive future for Hawai‘i.

Speaking at the annual Hawai‘i Visitors and Convention Bureau luncheon recently, Hawai‘ian Airlines President and CEO Mark Dunkerley said, “This is the moment for bold investments in time, effort and money, such that when the economy turns, Hawai‘i is poised to take full advantage.”

I couldn’t agree more. Now is the moment for bold action in support of public higher education in Hawai‘i.