On-campus student housing would encourage KPC’s growth

Posted: Sunday, October 22, 2006

Kids grow up. If parents are lucky, it’s in small steps, not giant jarring ones.

Come 18 and high school graduation, young adults face the momentous leap from their parents’ homes to being on their own. For kids going to college, this transition is eased with on-campus housing. Living in dorms gives students independence, yet also provides a safe, controlled environment that encourages academics as well as peer interaction.

On the Kenai Peninsula, college-bound teenagers don’t have that option. If they want to stay in the area and attend Kenai Peninsula College, they can choose from extremes — move into the completely unstructured environment of an apartment, or stay at home and forgo the freedom that the students and parents are probably ready for.

There’s only one choice for students wanting the “real” college experience complete with dorm life — head to Anchorage or beyond.

That’s fine for students who want to experience a different area, pursue a specialty at a specific school, get recruited to a college team or are simply certain that the Kenai Peninsula isn’t for them.

But for the students who do want to stay, even if it’s just for a year or two, and the numerous community and business needs that could be met by these young trained minds, it is a disservice that there’s not another option — student housing at KPC’s Kenai River Campus.

Kenai Peninsula College has matured into more than just a stepping stone to the University of Alaska Anchorage or an outlet for adult continuing education. It’s a high-quality, full-service school in its own right that’s looking more like a typical college every year.

According to KPC Director Gary Turner, KPC is growing, and the student body is getting younger. The 18-24-year-old age group has grown 26 percent over the last seven years. More than 230 students are under the age of 18 and 49 percent of the student body is under 24.

Not only can you pursue whatever general-interest course of study you want, but KPC offers three degree programs that aren’t offered anywhere else in the state —paramedic technology, industrial process instrumentation and digital arts.

These programs already draw students from beyond the peninsula — including Anchorage, Ketchikan, Oregon and Delaware. Having on-campus housing would encourage that trend, as well as serve local kids wanting to stay local.

Rural and Native students in particular could benefit from on-campus housing. Turner says he frequently hears interest in the school from parents and elders in Bush villages who want their kids to go to college but fear the transition from village life to a big city like Anchorage would be too overwhelming.

They’d rather send their students somewhere smaller, like KPC, so they can get acclimated and move on to the city after a year or two if they so choose, Turner said. But going to KPC means finding an apartment, which turns prospective students away.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Turner already has plans for on-campus housing. The proposal is for two, two-story dorm buildings that would hold 96 beds.

Turner envisions the housing to be financially self-sustaining. Students would pay about what they would for an apartment in the area — $550 to $700 a month. Those fees would pay for the increased infrastructure that would go along with student housing, including a residence coordinator and administrative assistant, additional maintenance and custodial costs and beefed-up security.

The interest is there — Turner says he has no doubt the housing would be utilized. If KPC builds it, not only would more students come, but there’s enough students already there who want to live on campus.

The space is there. KPC has 309 acres to build on, and Turner has a spot already picked out for the dorms.

The only things that aren’t there are the money and support from the University of Alaska Board of Regents.

The 96-bed plan carries an estimated price tag of $10 million. Once it’s built the housing would pay for itself, but if that price is too steep, Turner says he’d be happy with a scaled-down project to prove the concept works, then add more housing later.

Turner hopes peninsula legislators see the need for on-campus housing at KPC and convince their fellow lawmakers to provide the school with the money to build it, and that the regents see the wisdom of letting KPC take another step on its path toward continued maturity.

We share that hope. After all, kids are still growing up. It’s time KPC did, too.

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