Student enrollment is down at Mid-Pacific and across the state

Student+enrollment+has+been+decreasing+since+the+start+of+the+pandemic.+%28Infographic+by+Dillon+Balantac%2C+Staff+Writer.+Source%3A+Administration.%29

Dillon Balantac

Student enrollment has been decreasing since the start of the pandemic. (Infographic by Dillon Balantac, Staff Writer. Source: Administration.)

Dillon Balantac, Staff Writer

Imagine sitting with students in a crowded Bakken Auditorium. Now picture the first two rows of the center section, empty. That’s the number of students who have left Mid-Pacific over the last two years due to moving off-island or COVID-related concerns.

Private school enrollment is down at Mid-Pacific and across the state, according to data from administration and a report by the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools. This year, Mid-Pacific dropped 110 students from the previous year, roughly filling the first 13 rows of the center section in Bakken. Enrollment is down, and school leaders expect it will continue.

“It changes the DNA of the school,” said Myron Seu, high school dean.

Envision a favorite teacher or best friend leaving Mid-Pacific this year due to COVID-19.

At least five faculty members have left the school since the start of the pandemic, said Seu, who is also a member of the Mid-Pacific Teacher’s Association leadership team.

“When the economy goes down and families do not have the means to make tuition, we suffer.”

— Myron Seu, high school dean

“I don’t think five teachers is normal…they are the heart of the school,” he said.

Nearly half of public school teachers who stopped teaching after March 2020 left because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a national study by the RAND Corporation reveals.

“We experienced fewer teachers,” said Seu. “It is always sad to see a colleague that you’ve spent years with having to leave.”

In adherence to the CDC social distancing guidelines, many schools have tried to gain staff to accommodate reduced class sizes, The New York Times reports.

[Infographic]

“The number of students will be slightly smaller in the class,” said Chris Ferry, department chair for English Language Development (ELD). “We probably won’t have as many classes next year or ELD teachers”

With smaller class sizes, students may have noticed fewer international students on campus.

Two years ago, the international student population was 84. This year, that number has dropped to 59, a nearly 30 percent decrease.

“We’ve seen a decline in [international students] applying and enrolling,” said Kate Blackburn, assistant director of international enrollment.

Due to visa, travel and testing restrictions, many international students were unable to apply to Mid-Pacific this year, which resulted in a decrease in applications, said Blackburn.

For current international students from countries like Korea and Japan, a two-week quarantine is required when returning home, regardless of their vaccination status.

“They’ve made a lot of sacrifices not seeing their family and friends during spring break,” said Ferry.

As families debate whether or not to send their child to private school, many face monetary obstacles, which oftentimes, are the ultimate deciding factor.

“It wasn’t that my family couldn’t afford Mid-Pacific,” said sophomore Solana Isgar, who transferred to online school this year. “Would we be using our money effectively?”

Not being able to utilize Mid-Pacific’s resources to its fullest potential played a great role in her decision to withdraw this year, she explains.

“I couldn’t use my family’s money to benefit me more—so I can grow more,” said Isgar.

Since the nationwide shutdown in March, nearly half the households in America reported facing serious financial pain during the pandemic, according to a poll conducted by NPR.

“There has been a significant increase in families requesting financial aid,” said Leigh Fitzgerald, vice president of academic affairs.

The COVID-19 recession has thrown many families out of their homes and without jobs, causing many people to move out of state, she explained.

To counter the current economic crisis, Mid Pacific created the Owl Strong Response Fund, an opportunity for people to make special donations that provide financial aid for families. The charity event helped exceed last year’s financial aid fund of $4.5 million to $5.1 million.

“We have made some generous offers to families this year…[Even so,] some can’t invest in a private school education right now, even with more financial aid,” said Fitzgerald.

Though, as students move off-island, some families are actually migrating to Hawaii.

“We are seeing an increase in applications from families who are moving to Hawaii because they know we are able to have in-person students,” said Fitzgerald.

For those capable of affording it, Mid-Pacific offers the on-campus experience many mainland demographics lack. Next year, Mid-Pacific expects all students to return to in-person instruction.

“When the economy goes down and families do not have the means to make tuition, we suffer,” said Seu.