The summer break is over today as students at Kenai Peninsula College head back to classes in Soldotna, Homer and Seward.
But just because it's back to school time, doesn't mean the fun and games are over.
The 2003-04 school year is expected to be filled with new opportunities for the college and its students, according to college director Gary Turner.
First, there will be more students than ever taking classes at the college's central peninsula branch in Soldotna, as well as at the Kachemak Bay Campus in Homer and through distance delivery courses in Seward, Turner said.
Last week, overall enrollment was up nearly 10 percent over last year, and Turner said the college is seeing a significant jump in its 18- to 22-year-old population.
KPC long has been known for its diverse student population, with not only traditional college-age students, but many continuing education students in older age brackets. While this diversity remains important to the college, Turner said he is pleased to see an increase in younger students.
"It's great seeing fresh, young faces," he said.
Turner attributed the increase to the college's recruiting efforts in area high school last year, as well as to word of mouth among young people.
"The word's getting out that, hey, KPC is a good choice," he said. "Parents realize that the first two years anywhere are the same classes. They can get those here for a heck of a sight cheaper than in the Lower 48."
Plus, added Suzie Kendrick, the college's community relations director, students are telling each other about the college's small class sizes, personal attention and variety of choices.
"Peer pressure is important," she said. "We've really tried to leverage that to let students know we're a viable alternative."
Carrie Burford and Sherril Miller advise two aspiring students during the KPC open registration last Thursday.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
In addition to marketing the school, KPC officials also have been working to improve their services and offerings for students.
One of the biggest changes students at the Soldotna campus will notice this fall is the remodeled commons area in the middle of the campus. The remodel de-signed a comprehensive office space for student services, financial aid and business office functions, so students no longer have to shuffle from one end of campus to the other to complete their paperwork. It also extended to bookstore and put in a more accessible career center for students as well as members of the public.
Finally, the remodel created a new commons area for students to relax and study. The commons features a full wall of windows overlooking the banks of the Kenai River and provides some much needed natural light for the student center.
"No more Januarys in total darkness," Kendrick said. "The students deserve these windows."
The college also is expanding its course offerings to reach more students. Last spring, KPC unveiled technology to provide interactive video classes between campuses. Last year, one class was offered between Homer and Soldotna. This fall, there will be five, with the offerings expanding to Seward in the spring.
In Seward, where the college usually offers three or four classes, students will be able to choose from 11 different courses this fall.
"We're really starting to kick in gear in Seward," Turner said. "Enrollment in Seward is up 75 percent over last year."
The college is kicking off new programs to meet community needs. The Soldotna campus will begin offering a two-year registered nursing program in January 2005, and Homer will follow in January 2006. The Soldotna campus also is working with Central Emergency Services Chief Jeff Tucker to put together a paramedic program.
"It's not easy to put program(s) like that together in a small community," Turner said. "People will see the college did its best to listen to the health care community."
In addition, the school is offering more sections of required courses to meet the needs of the growing student population, and KPC will even offer one class anatomy and physiology at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai to fit in all 60-some students enrolled in the course.
"It's nice to have partnerships like that," Turner said.
In the future, though, such off-campus offerings may not be so necessary, though, he added. The college will begin work to expand the Soldotna campus and build an essentially new Homer campus in May with money from last year's Proposition C bond initiative.
The Soldotna campus will get four new offices and four new classrooms in the Ward building, and three of those classrooms will be stair-stepped with automatic retractable walls to provide either separate classrooms or a larger, auditorium-like space that will hold about 260 people.
The Homer campus will get a total overhaul, and planning is in progress to design the new facility.
Turner also is looking further into the future at how the college can expand and meet the needs of more students. One of his pet projects is making the college a transitional place for Native students from rural villages.
Turner said many students off the road system have few choices for where to go to school. Moving to one of the University of Alaska's bigger campuses requires a transition to a big city that many Native students are not ready for right out of high school, he said. He said students and their parents would like to choose KPC instead, but the college currently does not have housing for students.
KPC, in conjunction with UA subsidiaries in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Kodiak, is looking into options for building student housing in the future.
Turner said KPC already has a design scheme in mind and land set aside, as well as local contractors willing to build the housing structures. However, he said, the state is short on money to fund such endeavors, and the three colleges are looking for alternative funding options to build the dormitories.
In the meantime, KPC is working with neighboring Bible college Alaska Christian College, which targets primarily Native students for a one-year post-secondary program. The two schools formed a partnership program called "Encore" last year to allow ACC graduates to stay in their school housing for an additional year while attending KPC. Last year, two students participated in the program. This fall, there are 10 students in the program, and enrollment is expected to jump to as many as 25 in the spring.
KPC also has signed on as a supporter for a Native Education grant ACC applied for this fall. The grant would provide money for additional Native student tutoring and a Native student services coordinator that the two colleges would share. The results of the application are expected next month.
"We want to help them make the transition," Turner said. "It's a niche not being fulfilled, and our goal is to make sure that happens."
"It's a huge goal for us," Kendrick added.
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