By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer
A Kamehameha Schools decision to temporarily change its admissions policies to try to encourage more applications from students on Maui and the Big Island has met with the tentative approval of the Hawaiian community.
The schools will waive the $25 application fee, not eliminate children from consideration in its pre-screening process and not use minimum cut-off criteria when considering applications to the Maui and Big Island campuses.
The decision follows a flap created last month when alumni learned of a decision to admit a non-Hawaiian student to the private trust's Maui campus. Trustees said they had run out of qualified Hawaiian candidates for spots in the eighth-grade class.
Under the current policy, Kamehameha Schools gives Hawaiians preference, but can admit other students when that pool is exhausted.
Many Hawaiians have denounced the decision, which marks the first time since the 1960s — when children of faculty members were allowed to attend — that non-Hawaiians have been accepted. Kamehameha Schools is a $6 billion trust founded by the estate of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, great-granddaughter of King Kamehameha I.
Those admissions policy changes will affect the Maui and Big Island campuses this year, but are considered temporary until trustees can reconsider the full admissions policy. A six-month series of community meetings is scheduled to start early next month to gather input.
The school system's admissions season starts Thursday.
"It's a step in the direction they never should have changed," said Roy Benham, a Kamehameha Schools Alumni Association member who serves on the CEO's Advisory Board. "They should never have a threshold. They should just keep going down the list. In the past they had plenty of candidates."
The schools also will allow applicants from West Hawai'i to apply to either the Big Island campus or to O'ahu's Kapalama campus. Previously, students from West Hawai'i and remote communities on Maui were eligible to apply only to the Kapalama campus, which has boarding facilities.
Benham and other alumni, however, say they are worried that all of the Kamehameha Schools campuses will be flooded with applications from non-Hawaiians because of the Maui decision. Admission to Kamehameha Schools is highly coveted for the quality of the education and tuition that costs a fraction of the price of other large campuses.
Kamehameha Schools officials hope the changes will encourage more Hawaiian students to apply, and say they realize that their admissions officials may be dealing with a larger number of applications this year.
"I think the interest is heightened," said Marsha Bolson, communications director for Kamehameha Schools. "We're hoping that a lot of Hawaiians apply."
School trustees have apologized for poor communication with the community and said admissions procedures to the elite campuses must change. But they have remained tight-lipped about what those changes might entail. Trustees also have said they are protecting the trust's tax-exempt status and that the decision to admit the non-Hawaiian student will stand.
The admissions policy will not apply to the Kapalama campus on O'ahu. School officials say that campus is already flooded with applications — 4,400 applications for 450 spots each year — and does not need the same boost to recruiting.
Not all, however, praised the interim admissions-policy change.
Patrick Wong, a Maui attorney who helped draft an admissions policy petition that garnered thousands of signatures, said he is reserving judgement until trustees listen to public input and draft a new policy.
"I want to see what happens," Wong said.
Reach Jennifer Hiller at email@example.com or 525-8084.
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