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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However, he noticed a difference in the initial prospects between himself, a Notre Dame grad, and his wife, a UH grad, with similar training.

“We were both in accounting and both started off in public accounting,” says Nobriga. “Coming out of college, she got more offers than I did and I think (UH) had something to do with it. She had a 4.0, but it seemed it definitely didn’t hurt that she went to UH. All the recruiters for the Big Five companies, except for one, were UH graduates.

“Some of it is the people you know,” continues Nobriga. “Some is what you know. And some are the inherent qualities in the person, things like leadership skills and integrity. In Hawaii, integrity, leadership skills and people skills are very important. And probably understanding the culture, the local style of doing things, is part of it. You can’t just come from New York and expect people to embrace you and conduct business the way you conduct business on the East Coast.”

Nobriga says he had to refashion his own highly competitive nature and “dial it back a little” to work effectively in Hawaii. “On the mainland it’s no nonsense, get the job done, but here it’s connecting with people, talking story at first. The most prominent personality type in Hawaii is an amiable person.”

He knows how well UH connections have worked for Fujii, one of his best friends. “Being around him I realized how invaluable his network is. Having that UH background has really served him well in business.”

Hawaiian Telcom CEO Yeaman says his four years as an accounting major at UH let him hobnob with the business community long before he graduated. Clubs, honor societies and business get-togethers offered the perfect introduction for a young man with skill and ambition.

“I wanted to work for an international accounting firm based in Hawaii and I met the recruiters of all these firms in my sophomore year of college,” Yeaman remembers. “I had my job offer at the end of my junior year. For me, UH was an advantage. It has a good business school and it provides a strong link to the employers in town, which is an advantage. On the mainland, I don’t know how that would work. More of a burden would shift to the student rather than just having the employers in front of you and being able to take advantage of that.”

Once he graduated and joined the firm of Arthur Anderson, Yeaman was able to test his skills on mainland projects. His work on projects in California built his confidence and the sense that he could compete anywhere.

“I do think the broad experience is helpful in a career,” he says, “but I also believe you get out of anything what you invest into it. Would I have the same career path I had if I went somewhere else? I’ll never know. But I do know UH served me well.”

V. Vance Roley, dean of the Shidler College of Business at UH, says the college places about 450 undergraduates and 75 MBA candidates in internships every year and many lead to full-time jobs after graduation.

“It is very common for our accounting students to have summer internships in junior year and often have a job offer in hand when they start senior year.”

Roley says Hawaii is sprinkled with Shidler undergraduates who went on to become managing partners in their firms. But other young people have gone to the mainland for undergraduate studies and come home for graduate school.

“This is a good path and it’s recognized as a good path,” says Roley. “It’s a fact that our MBA programs like master of accounting, resource management, financial engineering, tend to attract students who want to live in Hawaii. Some are making that decision on the mainland, thinking ‘How do I best get back into the Hawaii business scene?’ ”

Awakuni, chancellor at UH-West Oahu, discovered that a UH network can remain strong even if you are gone a long time. He came back to Hawaii in 2005 after a 30-year career as a top administrator at prestigious mainland universities such as Stanford, Columbia and Cal-Poly. Before he left in the 1980s, he’d been president of the UH student body and had worked at the state Capitol. He’d also attended Kaimuki High School with U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, and they had been involved in the Young Democrats organization.

On his return, Hirono threw a welcome home party and invited 25 or 30 lawyers, judges and other community leaders. In addition, Awakuni called up old friends like Guy Fujimura, John Komeiji and Brian Taniguchi. “I had lunch with those guys and talked story and they said ‘I’ll introduce you to so-and-so.’ … It accelerated my re-entry into the local community. This is a face-to-face culture. You’ve got to get in front of someone and talk story and get your issues out and understood and supported. I think my UH connections that span over three decades really helped me.”

Last year, when Komeiji was named a UH outstanding alumni, he gave a passionate speech about how the perception of Hawaii’s state university has changed over the years, including in the eyes of its graduates.

“We were always being told that all the smart people left the Islands,” he said, echoing a decades-old perception. “I always believed that the majority of us at UH couldn’t get accepted to a mainland college. Unfortunately, in my mind that translated to the notion that UH, as a school, as an institution of higher learning, was second rate.”

But Komeiji said his perception changed as he succeeded in law, and saw other UH graduates rising in their fields and playing key roles in shaping Hawaii.

“I recognized that UH was a school which produced leaders, scholars and is the most important institution in shaping and developing Hawaii’s future. 

“We all need to adopt a truer view of the UH,” he maintains, “and challenge those who would have us believe otherwise.”

Disclosure: Bev Creamer is also a part-time communications adviser at the UH's William S. Richardson School of Law.

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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