Charting Palamanui’s academic future


A meeting Wednesday meant to draw input for a new community college’s academic master plan evolved into repeated discussions about the ethos of opportunity and empowerment.

Several residents debated the merits of offering more two-year technical college degrees, or specific training intended to meet the island’s need for certain skilled workers, rather than just preparation for those aspiring to move on to four-year colleges or focusing on classes that put students on the path toward an associate’s degree.

Some people also touched on the importance of integrating both by combining academic and technical curriculum, as well as giving students valuable work and community service experience. One woman disliked the idea of setting students out on predetermined career paths and also stressed that not every student will graduate from a university.

A few urged enrichment classes and lifelong learning opportunities remain part of the community college. All agreed students need high-quality choices that allow them to choose what works best for their situation.

The academic master plan is for long-awaited Hawaii Community College at Palamanui, which will provide a permanent site for higher educational services in West Hawaii. When completed, the new North Kona campus will replace Hawaii Community College’s University Center — West Hawaii in Kealakekua and increase the capacity from roughly 450 students to 1,400 students.

More than 20 educators, business leaders, county employees and residents attended Wednesday’s meeting at the Kealakekua campus. For roughly two hours, they provided input on the college’s academic master plan.

The document is not a strategic plan addressing budgetary, course work or infrastructure requirements. Still the plan will help set the tone of the campus and serve as “a mandala” for its higher education evolution. It will identify who the campus should serve, the available partnerships, the sort of faculty needed, the various programs wanted and ultimately the goals and core values of the college, said Jay Siegel, the consultant developing the plan.

Siegel has been conducting meetings and interviews with various stakeholders to find out what their vision for the campus is and what their needs are.

He anticipated this fact-finding process will continue until the end of this month. All the comments received will be used to create a draft academic master plan, which Siegel estimated would take about three months to complete and most likely be available for further public review and input by this summer.

Before the draft plan is viewed by the community, Seigel said it will be vetted first by Hawaii Community College Chancellor Noreen Yamane and her staff. He guessed the final plan could be completed as soon as late summer or early fall.

Among the programs wanted Wednesday included manufacturing, aeronautical engineering, astronomy, natural resource management, agriculture, health care, film and media production, and marine mechanic training.

Some attendees also called for the community college to better collaborate with the state Department of Education, four-year colleges and the business community. There were concerns that some students now working at community colleges statewide struggle with getting the classes they need or with transferring their credits to four-year colleges. One recommendation was to implement a cohort format, which typically guarantees admission in all of the courses required for a program, encourages student interaction, provides a stronger sense of community and results in higher on-time graduation rates.

Other ideas mentioned included requiring language courses; offering programs built around the career ladder concept; providing distant learning students with consistent face-to-face contact with teachers and better faculty support; teaching basic and essential life skills, such as balancing a checkbook and communicating effectively; having University of Hawaii’s Office of Cooperative Extension agents teach classes; and helping students develop positive, professional relationships within the area so that they become valued, contributing and empowered members of our society.

For more information about the academic master plan, call the chancellor’s office in Hilo at 934-2504.