Gary Turner, director/CEO of Kenai Peninsula College since 2002, can see Mount Redoubt from where he lives and found himself using binoculars to check out a few wisps that looked like smoke coming off the volcano Tuesday.
The wisps turned out to be nothing to be alarmed about on the volcano, which last erupted in 2009. With KPC facing a pandemic, declining enrollment and a budget deficit, though, Turner can hardly be blamed for wondering what is next.
“We’ll get through it,” Turner said. “KPC is strong. Take a budget deficit and now let’s toss a pandemic on top of it. Maybe Mount Redoubt is the next thing. We’ll have that blow.”
Turner said the college could face up to a $2 million deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
“That’s a big deficit for a fairly small college,” he said.
Turner said most of that deficit is driven by a compact signed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy and University of Alaska Board of Regents chair John Davies that cut University of Alaska system funding $25 million for the fiscal year ending July 31, 2020; $25 million for the fiscal year ending July 31, 2021; and $20 million for the fiscal year ending July 31, 2022.
The pandemic also has affected the deficit by cutting enrollment. Turner said enrollment is down about 28% for fall semester, when compared to the same time last year.
“With the pandemic, people are wondering if they really want to go to school now that there’s the threat of possibly getting the virus,” Turner said.
Turner said 80% of KPC students have jobs. Some have two jobs.
“It’s tough doing that in the regular world,” Turner said. “People are losing jobs, then there goes the money for college.”
Turner also said the majority of students are part of families with kids in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. With KPBSD distance education a possibility for fall, Turner said many students are facing the possibility of having to help children with school at home and needing to find child care.
As the fall semester approaches, Turner said he hopes enrollment goes up as students become more sure of the situation they will be facing.
KPC also is offering a fall scholarship, with no application necessary. By July 15, students admitted to or with pending admission to any UA degree program and enrolled in a minimum of 12 credits at any KPC campus get a $702 scholarship.
“With the uptick in cases on the Kenai Peninsula and the whole state with the potential for more, combine that in late fall and spring with the flu, and it’s hard to say where things go,” Turner said.
KPC does have a solid idea of how it will look in the fall. For the end of spring semester and summer classes, KPC did all distance classes, with some exceptions for health care and process technology learning that had to be done in person.
Turner said there will be some face-to-face classes in the fall, but they can only be 25% of regular capacity. For example, a 30-seat classroom can only have six students and an instructor. If the class size is bigger, other students could join in remotely.
Before the pandemic, Turner said 60% of the credits were offered via distance, so his staff is ready to teach remotely.
“They’ve been doing this a long time, and they’re really good at it,” he said.
Turner added the fall semester will see employees with access to internet continuing to telecommute, no public events, no meetings, regular sanitizing of high-touch and horizontal surfaces, and continued closure of the Gary L. Freeburg Gallery.
“The college will be strongly encouraging the use of protective face coverings not just out of respect for their own health and not wanting to get sick but out of respect for their fellow human beings,” Turner said.
Turner said the next phase the college could reach is going to 50% capacity, but that doesn’t seem likely in the near future.
“Universities are a lot different than business organizations,” Turner said. “There are high-touch areas and a very congregate audience, so there are stronger guidelines put out by the University of Alaska because of that.”
In early June, the UA Board of Regents voted to cut 39 academic programs. Turner said there were no programs at KPC deleted, but there are students taking classes at KPC working toward degrees in programs that were cut. Turner said those students are guaranteed the ability to finish their degree in that program in two to three years.
Turner said the enthusiasm of students helps carry staff through in these tough times.
“We do what we do because we love students, we love our jobs,” Turner said. “We love our community and we want to have a better educated public. It’s a public good, it’s good for the borough, it helps reduce crime, you name it.
“College is very key to the community.”