Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, November 21, 1996


The growth of
Hawaii Pacific University

HAWAII Pacific University has had no debt since Chatt Wright became president in 1976. He has the quirky idea that you don't spend money you don't have.

Since he first joined the then-college in 1972 as founding dean of business, it has grown from 57 credit students to 8,270. It has become a university with five graduate degree programs and 37 undergraduate degree majors.

It has built a $31 million endowment. Wright, 55, wants $100 million before he retires to go fishing.

When it merged with Hawaii Loa College in 1992, HPU finally got a green campus at the foot of the Nuuanu Pali to match its main campus on the streets of downtown Honolulu. Vans run every 20 minutes to transport students back and forth.

Hawaii Loa was in danger of losing accreditation, pressed to meet payrolls and $3 million in debt. HPU fixed all that. It since has spent $8 million on Hawaii Loa improvements, including fixing roof leaks that had mushrooms growing through the carpets in the library. HPU centers its nursing and marine science programs at Hawaii Loa.

All of this vastly impresses me but President Wright says the real news story about HPU lies in the global reach HPU has developed.

More than half its students come from out of state: 2,800 from the other 49 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands; 1,802 from Asia; 364 from Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Canada; 72 from present or former U.S. Pacific territories; 36 from Latin America and the Caribbean, and 17 from Australia and Pacific countries.

Most have been actively recruited by HPU faculty members fanning out to attend 100 college and university fairs a year.

Other Hawaii universities can do it, too, Wright says, because Hawaii is an attractive educational site where Orient meets Occident. Global education is a major economic opportunity for Hawaii, he says.

It's not just the $7,400 a year all HPU students pay in tuition and fees. It's the spending they do. Most out-of-state students come from middle- or upper-income families. They patronize restaurants around the downtown buildings that headquarter HPU. They rent or buy condominiums. They support 1,100 faculty and staff, who often do the same. They add a significant multiplier to HPU's annual budget of $53 million.

Wright wants more pay-as-you-grow expansion, in part so HPU will be too big to be trampled even accidentally by the publicly funded "elephant at Manoa."

HPU established a basketball team to give it visibility. It now has its Hawaii Loa soccer games carried to the U.S. on a cable network. It has built campus atmosphere with social events, nationality clubs and a theater program at Hawaii Loa.

WRIGHT was able to attract name faculty by hiring retired academics or "empty nesters" drawn to Hawaii and willing to settle for less salary than 40-year-olds trying to send two kids through college. He wants faculty members who will be loyal to HPU as an institution rather than to an academic discipline that may lure them elsewhere.

HPU works closely with the Honolulu business community in establishing its courses. Its travel industry management program now is larger than the one at the University of Hawaii.

The university is a wonderment pulled up by its bootstraps by a president with great marketing sense. Wright should be Hawaii's Salesman of the Year.



A.A. Smyser is the Star-Bulletin's contributing editor.
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.




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