Enrollment is down 18 percent at Kenai Peninsula College this fall.
Last year, there were 2,072 students enrolled in the fall semester, 174 of whom were taking classes full time. This year, there are 1,729 students enrolled, 121 of whom are full time. Students are also taking fewer classes this semester — enrollment by credit hours is down by 20 percent.
There are a few reasons for that dip, said President Gary Turner.
“The first one, I call it the fear factor. Right now, about 80 percent of our students are nontraditional,” Turner said. “80 percent of our students have jobs. And about half of those have more than one job. And you have to look at with COVID, the fear factor is, ‘Am I going to be able to keep my job?’ Or, ‘If I’m out of work, I can’t afford to go to college most of the time.’”
And there are more, competing options for taking college classes online. Pre-COVID, the college was already holding about 63 percent of its courses online. Now, the University of Alaska Anchorage is offering many of its classes online, too. And, Turner said, the way the course registration system works, the UAA classes show up first on the list for students.
Other would-be students might be fearful of contracting COVID-19. The college is offering about 15 percent of its fall course load in person, especially classes with labs, like healthcare and some process technology programs. All in-person classrooms are capped at 25 percent capacity, as part of the college’s Phase B plan, and students and professors are instructed to wear full PPE.
Across the state’s university system, enrollment has dropped by about 8 percent, said interim University of Alaska President Pat Pitney at a press conference on Tuesday. The system as a whole is facing nearly $15 million in losses, which Pitney predicts will double by the end of the fiscal year.
Lost tuition revenue is a big part of that financial burden. To cut costs at KPC, Turner and his team are looking to leave some vacant positions open for now, including five faculty positions and two of the four open staff positions.
About 75 to 80 percent of the college’s costs are personnel.
Still, Turner had originally predicted KPC’s enrollment numbers would be worse than they turned out. This summer, he was predicting a nearly 30 percent drop in enrollment.
“We’re putting a lot of emphasis, more emphasis on recruiting students and getting the word out about KPC, and that’s more challenging with COVID,” Turner said. “Our recruiter, she’s bringing in students one by one, she makes appointments if they want to roam the campus and learn more about us.”
Turner thinks the recruiting has helped bring up the numbers from earlier projections.
“We also did some Facebook Live events this summer that I think helped as well, and getting the word out that we’re here, we’re still teaching,” he said. “And I think, you know, will we do better in the spring semester? It’s hard to say. You know, I used to be able to predict enrollment pretty well. But COVID really throws a wrench into my crystal ball. So I certainly hope so, and we’re going to do everything we can to increase it.”
Turner and his team will be making a decision by mid-October about whether KPC will move to the next phase of reopening this spring. Decisions about reopening have been delegated to regional college presidents by the university system, and will be based on regional COVID-19 numbers.