Kenai Peninsula College is continuing to grow at a substantial rate.
As of Nov. 21, KPC had a student head count of 2,773, which is 28.6 percent higher than 2010 when it was 2,157 on the same day, according to a University of Alaska report.
KPC Director Gary Turner said he can’t say for sure what is causing the increase, but there are many factors that contribute.
“From where we sit, the economy is still playing a difference,” Turner said. “People are going back to school — I believe we’re seeing more career changers, or people that are unemployed or underemployed that want to upgrade their skills.”
The college’s 28.6 percent enrollment increase is the second highest in state, only behind Bristol Bay at 28.7 percent, the report said.
Turner also cited the 130 to 140 distance learning courses offered as a reason for the increased enrollment, when students don’t have to physically be in a class room — which allows them to pursue an education on their own terms.
“(The courses) provide an opportunity to people that have not had that opportunity to go to school — now they do,” he said. “It’s that single mom that lives out in Nikiski with two kids, or the father with two jobs that wants to spend more time with his family — he can’t make it to campus either.”
In September, the Alaska Board of Regents approved two new projects for KPC — a student housing building with 96 student beds plus six resident advisors and a Career and Technical Center for the Kenai River Campus. The two additions are estimated to run a tab of $32.3 million and were part of the Proposition B approved by Alaska voters in November of last year. Turner believes the projects will allow the college to be a more concrete option for students outside of the Peninsula.
“We are a transition campus — a place where a rural student can come and get more comfortable,” Turner said. “When you take a student who grew up in Tyonek and you send them to Anchorage, that’s a pretty big transition.”
Turner said the teacher to student ratio is 1:12, which lends itself to more student contact with the teacher and students not having to worry about the disconnect of large lecture halls.
However, KPC faces challenges as enrollment increases, Turner said.
“We find ourselves lacking space,” he said. “We could offer more classes if we had more room, so hopefully that will be a little bit alleviated with the Career Center.
“But we have students we are turning away.”
Classes fill up within a matter of hours after being available for registration, Turner said.
“Right now for the spring semester we have 68 sections maxed-out of about 270 sections,” Turner said. “About another 30 sections have only three seats or less left.”
Over the last five years, enrollment has increased 53 percent, Turner said, which directly impacts the student services of the campus — such as financial aid, advising and career planning, among others.
Turner expects the enrollment to plateau soon, due to the capacity of the college.
“Then again I’ve said that the last two years and I’ve been wrong,” he said.
Logan Tuttle can be reached at email@example.com.