KENAI - Enrollment at Kenai Peninsula College is in a "whole new stratosphere," buoyed by online classes, a recruiting effort and the tough economic times.
College director Gary Turner said the college has 1,758 enrolled for the fall semester that began Monday, up 26 percent from the same time last year.
"Credit hours are also up compared to this time last year," Turner said. "For the first time, we broke 12,000 credit hours. We've never broken 11,000 before, so we're in a whole new stratosphere."
The increase follows a nearly 10 percent rise from fall 2007 to fall 2008. "Last fall we were up about 10 percent, and I told everyone don't expect it next year because you can't keep growing, so this is amazing," he said.
Turner said the school has been putting a lot of effort into recruitment, but noted that enrollment also tends to spike in a recession, when people return to school because they've been laid off or want to gain skills for a different career.
"Part of it might also be an 'Obama-effect' as we have a president in office who speaks highly of the community college experience," he said.
The college's ever-expanding distance course offerings are also contributing to the increase. Turner said distance courses this semester are being taken by in-state students as far away as Barrow. As for out-of-state, the school has students taking courses from England and Afghanistan.
To meet the growing demand, faculty members are teaching more hours and have increasing capacity in their classrooms. The college has also added several sections, which are specific classes being offered more than once per semester. This has been particularly true for general education requirements.
"We don't want to get to where we have classes with 50 or more students," Turner said. "As we grow, we want to keep it how it's been where instructors know every student's name. We don't want students to just be numbers."