I have held the belief over a 25-year career in public and private service that relatively little is gained by responding to letters to the editor. However, a recent Clarion letter provides me with an opportunity to provide residents of the Kenai Peninsula with the facts of where Kenai Peninsula College has been and where it is going.
The first issue I would like to address is the topic of the administration at KPC. The college has begun a search for an assistant director of academic affairs which will hopefully result in a person starting in the position in August 2005. Here are the facts regarding this position:
n The position is being paid for through salary savings from three faculty members that will retire between January and May 2005. All three of these faculty positions will be filled with new, qualified and experienced professors. The professors that are hired to fill these positions will cost less than those they are replacing since the incumbents have all been with KPC for 20-25 years. This savings will be used to pay for this new position
n The new individual is being hired to take some of the workload off the two division chairs at KPC. The chairs use this time to coordinate division budgets, schedule classes for full- and part-time faculty and work various instructional issues. Once the academic affairs person is hired these two faculty members will be able to each teach two more classes a year since the new person will take on some of their administrative duties. This is a true benefit to students since these professors will be teaching more and administering less. Division chairs have been a part of KPC for more than 20 years.
n The academic affairs person will also be required to teach two courses per year in their academic discipline; another plus for students since this person will be required to be an experienced faculty member. While this individual will perform considerable administrative duties they will be a faculty member that will also teach.
n Therefore, with the two division chairs back in the classroom and the academic affairs person teaching, as well, KPC is literally gaining three-fourths of a teaching faculty member by hiring this new person. This new position will take some of the administrative load off the chairs and also allow me to concentrate more on strategic planning. In light of the work force development prospects with mining, the gas line and possible opening of ANWR, KPC has to position itself as education and training provider of choice in the state. We also need to reposition the college so it can serve the entire Kenai Peninsula better than it has previously. With technology improvements and better distance education delivery systems, we are working on how to better serve our residents, whether they live in Seldovia or Tyonek or Moose Pass and all points between.
n KPC had a dean of instruction (the assistant director for academic affairs will perform the same duties as this person did) until 1986. At that time we had the same number of full-time faculty in Soldotna that we do now, yet produced 1,000 less semester credit hours.
Regarding decreasing enrollment at KPC this semester, it is true we are down 8 percent this semester in credit hours generated, but this is happening through the UA system at community campuses. Some are down as much as 22 percent. Mat-Su College in Wasilla located in the fastest growing region of the state is down 10 percent this semester. We are all exploring the reasons for this decrease and are surveying students for the causes. KPC's enrollment and credit hour production has always been cyclical. When you look at KPC's history of enrollments and semester credit hour production you see the following:
n Since 1987, semester credit hours generated at KPC have fluctuated from a low of 7,561 credit hours in 1988 to a high of 10,047 in 1993. Over these 18 years, KPC has averaged 8,899 credit hours generated per semester. This fall semester we will generate about 9,340 credit hours, well above the historical average.
n Semester credit hours for the last three fall semesters are: 2002-9,274; 2003-9,509; 2004-9,340. Note that each one of these years has been much higher than the average of 8,889. Over the past three years, total credit hour production has been 28,122, the second highest 3-year period in the last 18 years. Only the period of 1993-1995 was higher with 28,822 hours.
So where is KPC today and where is it going? Over the past few years, the college has been working hard to look five to 10 years into the future based upon what we know presently, to see what we can do now to be ready. This is what we have done so far with more to come soon:
n The UAA nursing degree program begins at the Kenai River Campus next month and at the Kachemak Bay Campus in 2006. KPC administration and faculty worked hard to bring this program to the peninsula.
n The Kenai River Campus is planning to offer a paramedic technology degree program beginning in August 2005. Like the nursing career field, there is a huge demand for these professionals on the peninsula and across the state. KPC will be filling these demands locally and statewide, providing training to Alaskans for Alaska jobs.
n The four-year bachelor of arts in elementary education degree program has returned to KPC after a three-year hiatus. KPC continues to be the only community campus in the UA system where students can receive a number of bachelor degrees without leaving home.
n KPC assumed operational control of the Mining and Petroleum Training Services Division from the Anchorage campus last January. MAPTS is the largest training provider in mining, oil-gas and safety in North America and has trained more than 50,000 individuals over the past 30 years.
n KPC will assume the occupational safety and health degree program (the only such program in the UA system) from the Anchorage campus next month. Along with the OSH program, KPC is working toward becoming a National Safety Council Training and Education Center. Presently, the closest center that serves Alaska is in Seattle. A center at KPC would provide Alaska industries with access to thousands of safety-related training courses at huge cost savings to assumption of MAPTS, the OSH program and establishing a national safety center will position KPC as a primary education and training provider in the state as major resource development becomes reality in the next four to six years. Like a company that buys businesses to expand it's portfolio in order to meet customer needs, KPC is further carving its niche in the education and training world. With past leaders like Clayton Brockel and Ginger Steffy, we're standing on their shoulders to reach the next level of excellence.
KPC is not only increasing the number of programs it offers to Kenai Borough residents, but we are also being recognized for the innovative ideas for our faculty, staff and administration. Two months ago, the University of Alaska Anchorage created a program to reward campuses for unique ideas that address areas such as credit hour production, student retention and graduating students from high demand jobs. I'm proud to say that KPC was tops in the UAA system:
n Of the 87 proposals submitted from throughout UAA, KPC submitted 24 (28 percent); more than any other UAA college, campus or division.
n KPC had eight proposals accepted (the most of any UAA unit); our nearest competitor was the College of Arts and Sciences in Anchorage; they had five proposals accepted.
n KPC was awarded $167,300 (the most of any UAA unit); second place went to the College of Arts and Sciences; they were awarded $108,000.
n Barb Christian, KPC Arts and Sciences division chair and professor, had three proposals accepted, the most for an individual at UAA.
As stewards of public funding, the KPC faculty and staff take our role very seriously. During my entire career, I have never been associated with such a dedicated, hardworking group of people. You can be proud of your local college. I know I am.
Gary J. Turner is the director of Kenai Peninsula College.
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