Should a Hawaii High School Graduate Go to a Local or Mainland College?

Many say a UH business or law degree is a better ticket to success in Hawaii than a prestigious mainland degree

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Illustration: Andrew J. Catanzariti

Komeiji, too, has been on both sides of this on-going debate. After graduating from UH in 1975 with a Bachelor’s degree in Education, he went to Hastings Law School in San Francisco and returned to Hawaii to practice. He compares his law-school local network to that of attorneys who went to UH’s William S. Richardson School of Law: “You end up practicing with 60 of the 70 graduates. When I came back from law school, I knew five people (from Hastings).”

Many issues influence a student’s decision on where to attend college: while cost may be the biggest factor, others include the desire for new experiences vs. enjoying a familiar local culture; choosing the right degree or right academic program; and attending the institution where a parent, sibling or friend went to school. No one path is right for everyone, but many who chose to stay in Hawaii say they made the right decision.

“It absolutely does give you a jump start,” says Fujii, a former UH Alumni Association president. “Throughout my career, starting with Coopers & Lybrand, I already knew the people in the industry by joining UH student clubs and interacting with the professionals. When I started to interview for jobs, it was a lot more comfortable. It was more of a talk-story thing because I already knew these people.

“Later on, when I was recruiting, and we had recruits come from the mainland, we didn’t know a whole lot about them except what was on paper. But the UH kids we already knew. We could pick up good recruits prior to the formal interview.”

Even for those who didn’t grow up in Hawaii, but want to make it their home, attending a local college can create an edge. It’s all about networking in the business world before you get a diploma. That’s how Loryn Guiffre, an MBA grad from Hawaii Pacific University’s class of 2011, made herself stand out as a potential hire, especially important because Hawaii is her adopted state and she does not have a local high-school network.

“I had watched people graduate and just completely struggle and not be able to find a job,” says Guiffre, who is now a marketing and communications specialist at Maryknoll School. “They had straight A’s, they were great students and active on campus. So the most important networking I did was outside of HPU.

“Just because you have an MBA doesn’t mean you’re going to get a job. Hawaii doesn’t work like that. People have to know who you are.”

Guiffre asked people to lunch and met them informally to get to know a wide number of contacts. She also volunteered with campus clubs, worked at a high-tech entrepreneurs conference and volunteered at Hawaii Business magazine events that brought her into contact with local movers and shakers.

“I actually met my former employer at one of those events,” she says. “His company sounded interesting so I gave him my business card and he said, ‘Shoot me your resume.’ My networking with local people was the reason I got my job after graduation. … It was all about the relationships I had built. If I knew one person in that interviewer’s network, then immediately I gained credibility and trust.”

Building a local network is usually harder for those who don’t attend a local college, but high school and other contacts can compensate for that disadvantage. So can attending a mainland school that has a strong local connection.

Constance Lau, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc., went away for college and graduate school, but had deep community connections through her high school years at Punahou and her marriage to Russell Lau, whose family runs Finance Factors.

Also important, Lau says, were the connections she made with Hawaii graduates who went to Hastings Law School in San Francisco – a law school popular with Island students, especially before William S. Richardson School of Law was established at UH in 1973 – and came back home to practice. The Hastings network helped her land a Hawaii job soon after she and Russell moved home for family reasons.

Illustration: Andrew J. Catanzariti

“It was the volleyball connection,” Lau jokes. “One of my Hastings classmates, Val Kunimoto, played volleyball with Jackie Erickson, who was one of the first graduates of Richardson Law School and was corporate counsel for HECO. Jackie had mentioned to Kunimoto she was looking for someone and Val said, ‘Oh, I know this woman who just came back home from San Francisco. She was my classmate and might be interested in the job.’ Val told me, ‘You have to go for the interview with Jackie because she’s my good friend, and if you don’t it’s going to make me look bad!’ It’s that classic Hawaii very relationship-driven thing. I went for the interview and got the job, starting as assistant corporate counsel.”

That web of relationships has grown, as Lau has moved up in the company. She was invited to sit on corporate boards, chaired the UH Foundation and sat on many UH advisory committees. From her current perspective, UH connections, especially in professional schools like business and law, can be crucial.

“Frankly I don’t see the Ivy League being that important in the sense that there aren’t that many of us (Lau is a Yale graduate). It’s much more popular to have been at UH. There are many more people you can know and network with, both from undergrad and all the different graduate schools. Later on in life, my high school Punahou network has become very important, for those of us who have come back to Hawaii and chosen to make it our home. Everybody says that’s the difference in Hawaii. It goes down to the high-school level.”

Robert Nobriga, CFO and executive VP of Hawaii National Bank, offers a similar perspective. Even though he graduated from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, he went to summer school at both UH-Manoa and Maui Community College, and has an expansive network of friendships from his high school years at Kamehameha Schools.

Hawaii Business magazine invites you to comment on our articles and the issues they raise. Comments are moderated for offensive language, commercial messages and off-topic posts and may be deleted. Some comments may be chosen for inclusion in the magazine on the Feedback page.

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May 10, 2012 09:12 am
 Posted by  johnsonwkchoi

You want to get a business degree at major business/financial centers such as New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and etc and NOT at the State like Hawaii where businesses rank DEAD bottom in the United States as the MOST Anti-business State in the United States of America.

A CBA degree at UH in the 70s and 80s was good value and made sense until Hawaii turned anti-business from the late 80s.

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May 13, 2012 01:03 am
 Posted by  Coltb45

While it's no secret that networking while studying in Hawaii goes far, this is a little misleading.

The vast majority of college-bound Hawaii high school graduates continue their education in Hawaii. A small percentage go away. Despite this, a significant percentage of business and NPO leaders are mainland-only educated. Some who go away dont return and thus even factor in. While the number definitely favors the Hawaii-educated, the ratio favors the mainland-educated.

May 16, 2012 05:12 pm
 Posted by  NorthShore

An interesting article, but I kept waiting to see any reference to Brigham Young University-Hawaii which has a very successful accredited undergraduate business program. According to the combined business/accounting/hospitality/IT school has over 800 students, which is far more than Chaminade and nearly as many as listed for UH. Did the author (noted as being affiliated with UH) even contact BYUH for this article? Pretty incomplete journalism, if not.

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May 16, 2012 06:27 pm
 Posted by  Beebler

80% of Hawaii graduates who went to college went to the University of Hawaii. Which means...
20% max of Hawaii graduates went to college on the mainland/abroad.

56.3% of those from Hawaii high schools in the 2011 Hawaii Business Black Book are Hawaii-only educated.
31.8% are mainland/abroad-only educated.

If going to school in Hawaii was more beneficial like the article states, there'd be 80+% Hawaii-only educated in that 2011 Black Book, not less.

May 25, 2012 05:52 pm
 Posted by  bumper

This article reads more like UH propaganda than real journalism. Why do the majority of "success stories" feature people who are older than my parents? Yes, UH worked for them, but their decades-old experiences don't necessarily ring true today. Further, attention should have been paid to the power of private school networking. Having attended college and graduate school on the mainland, my high school alumni network has proven incredibly advantageous. This is a very limited and one-sided story.

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