When REC Silicon Inc., a company out of Moses Lake, Wash., tried to hire some 20 graduates from Kenai Peninsula College's process technology program this past summer, they were turned down.
"They were only able to hire two or three because our graduates have jobs," said Gary Turner, the college's director.
According to Turner, more than 90 percent of the college's graduates with their Associates of Applied Science in Process Technology get jobs in Alaska.
And Chere Kaas, Joe Ramirez and Joshua McQueen are among them.
These three current Kenai Peninsula College process technology students are gainfully employed. They got hired as operators on the North Slope with BP after their internships with the oil company last summer.
"BP hires mostly from Alaska schools," said Kaas, 28, of Kenai.
And while there are process technology programs at Anchorage and Fairbanks, she said, "Kenai is one of the better ones."
"A lot of the instructors were operators for years and years," Kaas said. "So they have experience and lots of training."
Other students in their class have been hired by Tesoro, and there are openings for contract operators, as well.
Kaas said they will begin the two-week on, two-week off commute later this year after they receive their Associates of Applied Science degrees through the program.
Turner said the college's process technology degree program is one of many courses at the college that are helping to replenish the workforce in the state's economy.
"We offer so many degrees and certificates," he said. "Welding has grown exponentially. I think we've almost tripled the amount of students we're teaching welding to."
Enrollment at the college has grown exponentially, too.
From Fall 2007 to Fall 2010 student headcount increased by 43 percent, or 634 more students, a larger percentage than any other University of Alaska campus that has 200 or more enrolled students.
The college has reached record enrollment, with about 2,500 students, Turner said.
Some of those students include Jessica Anthony, 23 of Nikiski, and Chris Russell, 31, of Soldotna, studying for associate degrees in paramedical technology.
Anthony said she was considering nursing but she just wasn't sure, the wait list for it was long. And the paramedic program was a better fit for her, she said.
"I got lucky this program is available in my hometown," Russell said. And it's among the top of its kind in the country.
Russell said that more than 90 percent of the students in the program at KPC pass their national registry test to become paramedics the first time.
"We offer a quality product and it's becoming more recognized," he said. "Students are tying to better themselves and typically when an economy is down people go to school," he said.
This boost in enrollment has also been a boon to the local economy. In financial aid alone, the college has distributed nearly $4.5 million this year, according to Turner. That's a more than $1 million increase in two years in money that is distributed to students after subtracting tuition and other fees.
"They're paying their rent, they're buying their gas, " he said. "The ripple effect in the community is huge."
But the increased enrollment also means the college is getting tight on space.
The college is running out of room for the students who want to enroll. The nursing program at KPC, for example, has a two-year waiting list.
However, the college's upcoming capital construction projects should help with the crowding and meet demands of the workforce, Turner said.
The state legislature and area voters last year approved funding for student housing as well as for a career and technical center. Now the college is waiting for the go ahead from the University of Alaska Board of Regents.
If approved by the regents later this month, KPC's Career and Technical Center will primarily house process tech, instrumentation and electronics programs in a 15,000 square-foot facility across the street from the college.
That new facility will also free up space in the main campus to expand the college's nursing, paramedicine and art programs, Turner said.
"If all goes well and they approve it then we would expect to award a construction contract in April of 2012 and then move in the summer of 2013," he said.
"These projects will have a huge impact on the Peninsula economy and to my knowledge are the largest projects that will be occurring over the next two years on the Peninsula," Turner added.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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