Tuition at Kenai Peninsula College will rise with a University of Alaska rate hike starting in the fall of 2003, but KPC administrators are implementing plans to keep the tuition increase from adversely affecting students.
The UA Board of Regents passed a 10 percent tuition increase last month. The increase includes a mandatory 3.6 percent inflation increase, which all UA branches and extension campuses, including KPC campuses in Soldotna and Homer, are required to enact next fall.
The remaining 6.4 percent of the increase is mandatory for the university's three major campuses in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, but rural campus directors were given the option of refunding their students for that portion of the tuition hike.
KPC Director Gary Turner and the KPC Council, an advisory committee consisting of staff and community members, were initially against the increase, but Turner told the council Thursday night that a number of circumstances make it necessary for the college to go along with the regents' decision.
For one, he said, every other campus in the state has agreed to enact the full 10 percent increase. If KPC does not go along, he said the college may face future problems getting funding from the university system.
He added that the board policy on tuition increase waivers makes the prospect daunting.
According to the board policy, the campus would have to charge every student the full tuition rate, then could reimburse students for all or part of the 6.4 percent increase, creating a paperwork nightmare.
The college has held a number of student forums to discuss the tuition increase and gather feedback from students, and Turner said students don't seem adverse to the idea. The increase adds $5 to $10 to the price of a credit, and the revenue will go toward improving student services on both KPC campuses.
Still, Turner and the council said they don't want the increase to bar any students from receiving the opportunity to continue their education.
"We tried to figure out how to deal with this in the best way possible," Turner told the council. "How could we bring in the additional revenue to assist student services but not affect the students?"
The solution will be a need-based tuition waiver form.
Under the new plan, any student who does not receive financial aid will be eligible to fill out a brief form when registering for classes. The forms will be processed in one to two days, and any student who qualifies will be reimbursed the 6.4 percent of the tuition increase.
"We feel it's an equitable way to work with students so this doesn't impact their pocketbooks and we go along with the Board of Regents' idea to help ourselves," Turner said.
Initially, Turner said the waivers would be granted on a first-come, first-serve basis and funded by a Homer Electric Association dividend the college receives and by UA tuition waiver money, which together total about $18,000 a year.
He also said he expected the waiver program to be popular the first semester after the tuition hike but to taper as students adjust to the new prices. He set no time limit on how long waivers would be offered, though, indicating that decision would depend on student feedback.
In general, the council -- which does not have the authority to dictate policy on campus but serves in an advisory capacity for the college director -- responded favorably to the compromise solution.
Jim Carter of the Economic Development District said he still was not thrilled with the idea of the tuition increase but supported the effort to make a compromise.
"I want to commend Gary for taking this to the students and discussing what this means," said council member Sandra Wassilie of Seward. "That's very wise. It's the right thing to do."
Some council members, however, suggested there be no limit on the number of waivers granted.
"I think the waiver program is a great idea," said Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly President Pete Sprague. "I don't want to see it limited to a first-come, first serve basis, though."
After much discussion, the council voted to endorse the waiver program, but without a monetary cap.
"We must come back to the fact that this is a recommendation," Wassilie said. "We don't want to put barriers up for students coming to college. But we trust your judgment to administer (the program) as you see fit."
Turner has final authority in the matter and said Monday that the tuition waiver program will be implemented in the fall. Whether the program will have a monetary cap has not been decided yet.
"We're still investigating that part," Turner said Monday. "Right now, we have a little over $18,000 set aside a year. With regard to other funds being available, we haven't got to that part yet."
In other council discussions Thursday night:
Turner brought forward the discussion of a name change for the Soldotna campus, explaining that some of the feedback he's gotten from community members since arriving this summer included confusion about the names of the campuses. KPC consists of two campuses: one in Soldotna and one in Homer. The Homer campus was named the Kachemak Bay Campus in 1986, after residents acknowledged that the college served a region, rather than a city.
Turner suggested that the Soldotna campus, which doesn't have an official name, also be designated in a way that reflects a regional service area.
Council members were cautious about the idea, though, with several noting that the campus's physical location in Soldotna should not be ignored. The council recommended simply that the college gather a wide range of community input before taking any action.
Turner said the college has about $160,000 remaining in fund balance from when the college sold property to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District for the construction of Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School. He asked the council to endorse earmarking that money as seed money to try to raise funds to build student housing in Soldotna.
Turner said he would like to see KPC become a transition campus, especially for Native and rural students.
"Students from rural communities have a 60 percent failure rate when they go to major campuses," he said.
Instead, he said, rural students could come to the smaller KPC community for two years to get used to college life in a setting more suited to their background. At present, the only road block to such a plan is the lack of student housing.
Turner plans to attend a symposium Jan. 7 to learn how to create privatized student housing and said he hopes to set plans in motion before the UA Board of Regents meets in Soldotna in April.
"It would be a gesture of faith to earmark the funds as a start," Turner said.
The council approved the designation of the funds.
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