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Kenai Peninsula College: Around Campus

Posted: September 29, 2013 - 5:56pm

Looking back over the past five years it’s easy to see that receiving $1,996,319 from the U.S. Department of Education Strengthening Institutions Title III grant strengthened the college in many ways.

The proposed purpose of the grant was “to increase enrollments, institutional self-sufficiency, and fiscal stability by developing a high-demand academic program (Process Technology), beginning at the developmental level through core courses, for distance/hybrid delivery through multiple modalities to extend equal access to all service area residents, bundled with a wide array of support services accessible through compatible modalities to ensure their success.”

There were a myriad of reasons why KPC sought the grant funding. KPC Director Gary J. Turner is quick to point out that there were some troubling statistical trends on KPC’s horizon. Headcount was down more than ten percent in the preceding five years, credit hour growth was essentially flat and most alarming was the fact that the college was starting to lose students to other University of Alaska campuses and outside universities who had online options for courses.

“In 2006, our distance enrollments comprised just five percent of our total credits compared to 20 percent nationally. We estimated in 2006, that KPC lost more than 2,200 credit hours to distance classes just coming from within Alaska. Who knows who much we were losing to Lower 48 institutions,” Turner said.

Another concern was that KPC was no longer serving as many working adults with the time constraints that come with full time jobs and family obligations. KPC needed to find a way to accommodate potential students who didn’t have time to attend classes face-to-face, or who lived too far from the campus to commute.

The college recognized that to not “miss the boat” on the growing trend of online education, something major had to be done that would keep KPC relevant. Technology had developed that made access and delivery of distance education possible, even in areas with slow Internet connections.

In what is now 20-20 hindsight, Director Turner made this comment to KPC faculty and staff in 2008: “If KPC campuses and other small UA rural campuses do not embrace distance learning they will eventually become just extension sites of the three main UA campuses. We could wind up doing just some developmental education, testing and a few lower division courses that were not being offered via distance by other campuses.”

The tide had turned and KPC needed to reinvent itself and the opportunities that a Title III grant offered seemed to be the best option available. It became apparent that improving access to KPC classes was paramount to KPC’s survival.

KPC’s Title III grant titled, “Distance Education Access and Success,” was funded Sept. 30, 2008 and it ended today—five years of funding that resulted in a remarkable turnaround. A staff of five professional focused solely on the grant’s objectives to meet very specific goals.

What measurable differences has the grant provided KPC? In fall 2007 the college offered 11 class sections in six subjects. In spring 2008, eight percent of KPC credits were taken via distance technology. By the end of the academic year, the retention rate in distance delivered courses was 69 percent.

Fast forward to the 2013-2013 academic year and the results are staggering. There were 276 class sections in 46 unique subjects, with a total enrollment of 4,564 students-nearly eight times the original enrollment figures. The retention rate in web-based classes was 85 percent, which is on a par with face-to-face classes and above the national average.

While the grant has come to a close, KPC recognizes the importance of continuing emphasis on technology-based learning. An Education Technology department has been formed with three of the former Title III staff, Dr. Heather Nash, Dr. Richard Webb and Andy Pfeiffer continuing the good work they began five years ago.

This column is provided by Suzie Kendrick, Advancement Programs Manager at Kenai Peninsula College.

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