Sunday, November 14, 2004



To go or not to go?

Many of Hawaii's students are
facing a tough decision -- whether
to attend college at home or
head to the mainland


Should Hawaii kids stay home for college or take the plunge, "get off the rock" and head for the mainland for school? The decision is huge in terms of quality of education, choice, cost, convenience, career and even character development. Next to deciding whether or not to go to college, it is likely to be the most important decision that a Hawaii high school student will face.

This is the third in a series of occasional articles on college for Hawaii students and their parents by C. Richard Fassler, in preparation for his book "Hawaii's College Guide: from Preschool to High School." Previous articles published in the Star-Bulletin involved choosing a college (Nov. 30, 2003) and the transition from high school to college (June 13, 2004). Fassler is the author of "Rainbow Kids," a book about hapa-haole children in Hawaii.
That decision will have to be made in little more than a month as representatives from both local and mainland schools roam high school campuses and set up booths at college fairs to make their pitch. With admissions deadlines looming, both students and parents are under tremendous pressure to make the right choice.

When it comes to choosing a college, the vast majority of American students stay home -- or close to home. In Hawaii, approximately 70 percent of our grads will pick a local school, compared to the 85 percent of kids across the nation who opt for a college in their state. There are good reasons for this.

Familiar and affordable

The No. 1 advantage is the familiarity of the place. You know the way to the beaches and Ala Moana Center. You know where to fish; have your teeth cleaned and your hair cut; catch a bus; deposit your paycheck; go to the movies. Your friends and family are here. They know you. You know them. It's nice. It's comfortable. And why fight freezing weather when you can enjoy the best weather in the world?

Then, importantly, there's the cost savings of staying home. Hawaii colleges are among the most affordable in the nation. Consumers Digest placed the University of Hawaii-Manoa and Brigham Young University-Hawaii near the top of the nation's 3,500 colleges that offer top academic value per dollar. For the 2004-'05 school year, UH-Manoa, with a resident's tuition fee of $3,580 a year, ranked 7th least expensive out of 67 public flagship universities. The average tuition was $4,993. The community colleges, at about half UH-Manoa's cost, are an even better deal. A recent report found that community colleges here cost about 18 percent of an average family's income, one of the most affordable percentages in the nation.

BYUH, with a non-church member tuition of $3,860, topped the Digest's list of 25 private schools for value. And the other schools represent good value, too. Hawaii Pacific costs roughly $11,000 and Chaminade is $13,380. If you live with the folks, that's pretty much what you'll end up paying. Get a job; save some money or take out a small loan and you've got a college education.

Contrast this with going away to school on the mainland. A year at Brown in Rhode Island, with round-trip air, will run $41,000. Tuition at Williams for the 2004-'05 school year (where my daughter goes) is $29,786. Room and board pushes that up to $38,100; add a couple of trips home per year, and you're over $40,000. That's more than 10 times the cost of UH!

Convenience. Schools in the islands represent the ultimate in convenience. Most are less than an hour's drive away. Contrast this with the hassle of arranging flights; security checks; lugging bags filled with a year's worth of clothing, photos, computer equipment and a rice cooker; changing planes; arranging cabs and shuttle buses; coping with snowed-in airports; flight delays; on and on.

Choice of schools. Big colleges, small colleges, public colleges, private colleges, trade-oriented colleges, business colleges, religious colleges, colleges for working adults, and colleges that allow you to stay home and take online courses. Our population of 1.3 million supports a wide range of higher educational opportunities.

There's a good choice of programs, too. You can pursue a traditional liberal arts curriculum or learn how to repair a computer, prepare fine cuisine, raise shrimp, investigate a murder scene or repair an airplane. Concentrate on areas where Hawaii has unique advantages, such as travel industry management, volcanology, tropical aquaculture, Asian and Pacific Studies and astronomy, and you can't do better than here.

Quality. If one thinks of "quality" in terms of small classes with low faculty-to-student ratios (as I most definitely do), then local kids have that opportunity. Hawaii Pacific University, Chaminade, BYUH and even smaller schools than this offer opportunities to participate in classes with 20 students or less and greater access to professors.

The post 9/11 world. It's an uncertain world out there. Security checks seem to be everywhere, causing anxiety. Is this the right time to send a 17- or 18-year-old 5,000 miles away? For many parents, this is a valid concern.

With all these wonderful reasons to stay home, it's no surprise that local schools are enjoying a surge in popularity. UH-Manoa will hit its highest enrollment level in 25 years, and HPU, BYUH and Chaminade are enjoying record attendance.

Independence. So, why should a Hawaii kid head off for the mainland? There are plenty of reasons -- excellent reasons. If you decide to stay home, you can receive a very good education. If you go to the mainland, you might receive an excellent education -- and another education. By "another education," I'm not talking about the education you will get in a classroom or the education you will receive to land a job. I'm talking about an education that can -- and most often does -- change how you think and act. It's something that can benefit every Hawaii student. For example:

A local kid who is:

» clinging and dependent; doesn't want to leave home
» provincial; unsophisticated; ignorant
» irresponsible and immature; will never "grow up"
» shy and fearful; unwilling to try new experiences or meet new people
» prejudiced; bigoted; considers all people unlike him to be inferior

is more likely to become:

» independent, responsible, resourceful and able to take care of himself or herself
» adventuresome, open to new thoughts and experiences
» socially adept; able to mix comfortably with all sorts of people
» strong; resilient; entrepreneurial; willing to take risks
» open minded; fair; not prejudiced; does not judge people by the color of their skin through study on the mainland than staying at home in Hawaii.

Most adolescents have a burning desire to achieve independence -- from their parents, mostly. This is a particular problem for Hawaii kids who often feel sheltered. Kaiewa Masuda, a Kamehameha grad who attends UH, told me that "I know parents who take advantage of their kids' staying at home by still running their lives, telling them when they can go out and when they can do certain things even though they are older than 18 and are legally adults."

A neighbor of mine -- of Japanese ancestry -- noted that, "Kids who don't go to the mainland are somewhat crippled. For them, the mainland is this big, unknown place. My friends have kids who stayed home and went to UH. They're wondering if they're ever going to be independent and leave the nest."

"I've definitely grown and matured," said Jaime Lachmann, a Punahou grad who recently received her degree from Yale. "College is that first step out of the sheltered home you've known your whole life. There's no mommy or daddy to hold your hand -- you've got to take care of things yourself, or find people who can help you if you can't do it yourself. But you learn to become responsible. You learn how to handle yourself."

Iolani grad Jared Fujii, second from right,with classmates Heidi Henrich, Amy Shulstad and Justin Trautwein celebrate a snowstorm in 5-degree weather at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. Fujii chose UND for its outstanding commercial aviation program.

New experiences

Too many of our local populace could fit Webster's definition of "provincial": un-sophisticated and narrow-minded. By exposing oneself to the great world outside of Hawaii, one is more likely (but not guaranteed) to open one's mind, understand other cultures better and display more tolerance of other cultures.

College is, above everything else, a precious opportunity to learn -- and experience -- new things. Daughter Kim tells me that 50 percent of what you learn in college takes place outside of the classroom.

Why is this mainland college experience so valuable? Encountering difficult situations such as unfamiliar food; freezing weather; dealing with people who are culturally different and ignorant of the islands contributes to the learning experience. Life is not for wimps. Push yourself out of your comfort zone! You will have some tough going, but the challenges are likely to make you a stronger and more capable person than if you stay in Hawaii.

As Erin Yoshioka, who attends UH and rents a house with fellow students in Nuuanu, put it:

"I haven't changed that much. I'm still seeing old friends and visiting my parents every couple of weeks. Living away from home allows students to be more independent and helps them adapt to new situations."

Living on the mainland enables Hawaii students to have a wider variety of experiences than they would have here -- everything from meeting people from divergent backgrounds to making their own travel arrangements, to "road trips" across the country. Many students will be forced to do their laundry for the first time.

Getting to know Hawaii. Do you love Hawaii? Would you like to know Hawaii better? You might consider leaving here as fast as you can. Many local kids develop a deep appreciation of what the state has to offer only after they've studied on the mainland.

A freshman at the University of Southern California observed that "After being away at college, I've realized just how special Hawaii is." A student at Brown agreed. "I've grown to appreciate living in Hawaii -- the weather, atmosphere, laid-back lifestyle, friendly people ... It's not every day in Rhode Island that you can drive 10 minutes and go to the beach," she said.

Being challenged. We noted that 50 percent of what you learn in college is outside of the classroom. What about inside the classroom?

When it comes to classroom learning, students will learn more, think more carefully and perform better by associating with academically strong students. The Hawaii student is more likely to be challenged on the mainland than here because of the greater selection of more challenging colleges.

A matter of choice. There are more than 3,500 colleges in the United States. Hawaii has seven, including the UH system. Do the math. Every college book you'll ever read and every college counselor you'll ever talk to will tell you the same thing: "Choose a college that's the best fit!" Doesn't it make sense to consider a broad spectrum of educational choices before making a decision?

Penalties of popularity. Yet another reason for heading for the mainland is the situation at UH-Manoa: overcrowded dorms, "standing room only" classrooms, and a lack of classes. No wonder Jan Heu, Interim Director of Admissions, was recently forced to admit that "we're probably reaching our ceiling for students who can be accommodated within the infrastructure we have."

Career opportunities

Look east, young grad. An important part of attending college is preparation for a job or a career. We want meaningful, interesting, well-paid employment. It's necessary, therefore, to have a good choice of careers and, within that career path, opportunities for advancement.

In Hawaii, those opportunities are likely to be in our No. 1 industry -- tourism -- but there are precious few high-paying jobs to go around.

So, until new industries are created, our grads will continue to look overseas. There are indications that increasing numbers are doing just that because the quantity and quality of jobs outside the state is far greater than back home. And they'll be better paid, too. Salaries in Hawaii are about 10 percent less for the same job at the same-sized company on the mainland.

No wonder that 86 percent of Iolani's class of 2004 and 90 percent of Punahou's class of 2003 opted to attend colleges on the mainland. After graduation, they should be better qualified for mainland jobs because they will have more opportunities to experience and adjust to mainland conditions.

There are other reasons for a mainland education. There's the opportunity to play sports, which is greatly restricted in Hawaii because of our lack of Division III schools. There's also a lack of plain old fun and traditions at local colleges compared to colleges on the mainland. And there's the heady experience of being a student from "everybody's paradise" -- Hawaii -- at a mainland school. Finally, if our kids are ever going to try studying or working abroad, they'd better do it in college. College offers a safe and relatively protected first step -- a gradual transition to the mainland experience.

Fear factor. Yet despite the obvious advantages of studying overseas, the mainland is certainly not for every Hawaii student. Many flat out don't want to go. Many decide to go, but quickly return. Why? Culture shock. Bad weather. Homesickness. Boyfriend or girlfriend. And just the stress of the college experience, increased by being far from the islands. Many of our kids are thrown on a plane without ever having been overseas, receiving little, if any, preparation for the challenges they will experience and have to deal with.

Those Hawaii students who are willing to take on the challenges of the mainland are gutsier than the average kid. I've noticed, for example, that of those who took the plunge, a good many were athletes or school leaders who are often more adventuresome and willing to take risks.

But choosing to study on the mainland is not an easy decision. Iolani grad Joe Udell, a junior at Brandeis University near Boston, told me, "Not leaving Hawaii because you are scared of leaving or because you are thinking that you 'can't handle it' is not the greatest reason to stay. Hawaii will always be there and if you are willing to branch out, you may be pleased."

Jennie Larsen, a recent graduate of the University of Colorado, was more blunt: "In Hawaii I was beginning to feel like I was living in a box. A message to all Hawaii students: Get yer tail out of Hawaii and go to the mainland! Swallow your pride and anxiety and get off the damn rock!"

"Yes," you are going to tell me. "That's all well and good. The mainland's a great place for college. But I can't afford it!"

Most people overestimate the cost of college -- it's more affordable than you might think. The average tuition for non-residents at public flagship universities for the 2004-'05 school year was $15,544. While this isn't exactly "chump change," it shouldn't put a stop to your mainland college plans, especially when you consider that: a high percentage of students receive some sort of financial aid; there are hundreds, if not thousands, of scholarships out there, many of which go begging; low-cost loans are readily available from a variety of sources; and jobs on campus are relatively easy to find.

When choosing a college, a student should look for a good fit. By considering studying on the mainland, he or she is more likely to find the right school and have a more successful college experience. Of special significance: The mainland can provide a fast track to a more mature, responsible individual.



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