Reaching more students: KPC becoming University of Alaska leader in online education

Voices Of The Peninsula

Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Kenai Peninsula College's efforts over the past year to increase our distance-delivered course offerings truly have been amazing. Last summer, we offered two distance courses, this summer we are offering 13. Last fall we offered 13 online courses; this fall we have scheduled 30.

When comparing the number of KPC students taking distance courses from last fall to this semester, we have shown explosive growth. Last semester we had 110 students taking distance courses, this semester 382 are taking them, an increase of 247 percent. Credit hours have increased 146 percent increasing from 531 to 1,304.

Some may ask why are we focusing on distance classes. The first and primary reason is to better serve the Kenai Peninsula Borough our service region covers 25,000 square miles and many of our borough residents either live too far from one of our campuses to commute or cannot get to a campus due to childcare or other personal issues or the price of gas.

For example, a single parent who works a full-time job has little time during the day or early evening to take college courses, but they can take an online course whenever it suits their schedule.

Are we accomplishing this? Yes, the number of borough residents taking KPC distance courses has increased from 84 students last fall to 170 students this semester a 102 percent increase. We also are reaching more "rural" peninsula residents. Communities we consider "rural" are those more than 25 miles from one of our campuses.

This semester we have 27 students in various "rural" borough communities taking at least one KPC distance course; last semester nine people in these communities took one of our distance courses.

The second reason we are focusing on distance education is to not lose revenue to Outside universities that provide courses on the peninsula. Our gains in online education have helped offset my predictions that we would see 3 percent decreases in semester credit hours this year due to the Agrium closure. This semester we are up 3 percent in credit hours; without the distance classes we would be down 9 percent. Without these courses, this decrease would have potentially cost us $115,000 in tuition revenue. This kind of loss would mean cutting programs or personnel.

It is my belief that borough residents prefer to take online classes from KPC rather than the Lower 48 online universities because they trust Alaskans more and can travel to one of our campuses to talk to a real faculty or staff person if they want.

This is backed by a recent study conducted by Eduventures, a research firm that provides consulting services in online postsecondary education. They conducted a study of 2,033 people and two-thirds of the respondents stated they preferred to enroll in online programs in their state that's what we're doing, and will continue to do.

Another reason to take a distance course from KPC is because of cost. KPC's tuition in the fall will be $134/credit; by comparison, the University of Phoenix charges $494/credit. If you are taking 30 credits a year, tuition will cost you $4,020 at KPC; for the same number of credits at the University of Phoenix, tuition will cost $14,820 to $10,800 more for one year of study.

You can attend KPC for three years for the same amount it costs to "attend" Phoenix for one year ($12,060 versus $14,820) and still have $2,760 left over for books, gas and pizza.

Some may have the false notion that distance courses are cheaper to offer than face-to-face classes and save colleges money. Not true.

When you take into account the faculty training that must be provided and the additional information technology support and infrastructure needed to support these courses, it costs about the same.

How have we been able to make such great strides in distance education? The efforts by KPC faculty to accept the new technology, modify existing courses to distance modalities and create new distance courses are extremely commendable. The support by information technology staff and student services also must be recognized as these courses increase and complicate their tasks.

Is a distance delivered course for you? KPC has created an online quiz at www.kpc.alaska.edu/online/DEquiz.cfm that will give you a good idea if you are ready. If you are, we probably have one you want or need.

Online registration begins April 7 for admitted students and May 1 for the general public. See you online.

Gary J. Turner is the director of Kenai Peninsula College, a community campus system of the University of Alaska Anchorage. The KPC system includes the Kenai River Campus in Soldotna, Kachemak Bay Campus in Homer, Resurrection Bay Extension Site in Seward, Anchorage Extension Site at the University Center and the Mining and Petroleum Training Service in Soldotna and Anchorage.



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