Days before classes start, spring enrollment numbers at Kenai Peninsula College are about the same as they were this fall.
College Director Gary Turner says he’s hesitant to make assumptions about student behavior. But if he had to guess:
“I would say, in my opinion, that students said, ‘OK, I can do this," he said. "And many of our classes have been distanced in the past. So that’s why I think our numbers in the fall semester are just about right on target that we have right now.”
Fewer students were enrolled at KPC this fall and spring than at the same time last year. As of Monday, KPC had a headcount of 1,107 students. That’s just two fewer than it had this fall but over 400 fewer than it had in spring 2020.
Turner said that partly has to do with how KPC students are experiencing the pandemic. About 80 percent of their students are considered “nontraditional.”
“And what does that mean? Well, they’re somewhat older, and they have families or they’re married or they’re single parents," he said. "Most work at least one job, some work two jobs. So you toss all that in on top of a pandemic, and a parent has to often say, ‘Well, I can’t really afford to take a class at KPC cause I need that money to buy shoes for my kids.’”
The pandemic has accelerated declines in enrollment across the University of Alaska system. But even before that, UA was experiencing a steady decrease in enrollment over the last decade. Those downward trends are coupled with drops in net tuition revenue.
Turner thinks another factor in this year’s drop in enrollment is that more students are taking classes at the Anchorage campus, where there might be over 100 students in a class.
“KPC, we’ve never believed high class capacities make for a good learning environment," he said. "So for many many years, we’ve maxed out our distanced classes at 35 or less.”
Without the need to be in person, students can take classes at any campus. Classes cost the same at each UA school. The Anchorage campus also comes up first in the course catalog.
One program, the school’s paramedic program, saw a surge in enrollment this year, Turner said.
“The main reason for that was that with state health department approval, all our paramedic students would have to go outside and do their internships in the summers," he said. "Well, that’s impossible with the pandemic. So the paramedic program team, they put together virtual simulation and virtual labs with some intensive labs that students have to be here. So this has attracted maybe eight or nine students from the Lower 48.”
Most of that program is done via distance, with the exception of a few weeks at the end for an intensive in-person component.
Turner says he hopes enrollment numbers increase before classes start Monday. This will be his last semester with KPC — he retires this summer.