Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 6:46 PM on Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Borough gets good return on KPC investment




An open letter to Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey,

I write this letter with a heavy heart. Your plan to "suspend" funding to Kenai Peninsula College came as a shock when I learned of it Feb. 4 via your e-mail to borough employees and assembly members.

Community colleges in the Lower 48, on average receive 17 percent of their funding from local appropriations through their counties or boroughs. Last year, borough funding to Kenai Peninsula College was $637,570, accounting for 5.4 percent of our budget. If we matched the 17 percent national average, KPC would receive $2,008,686 from "your" borough.

Why do Lower 48 municipalities support their community colleges like this? Because, like our borough residents, they support education and realize what a college does for its communities. In 1990, Kenai Peninsula Borough voters approved Proposition 2, which provided for property values to be taxed at 1/10th mill that would be used to help fund postsecondary education. Didn't we learn from the last U.S. Senate election how important voter intent is? Peninsula voters' intent was clear 20 years ago and it was to pay a 1/10th mill for education.

I would like to remind you, or perhaps inform you, of what KPC does for the borough.

n KPC is one of the largest employers on the peninsula with more than 280 employees.

n The economic impact of the college in 2007 as measured by the McDowell Group was:

n Total impact=$19 million

n Direct spending in the borough=$10.4 million, which resulted in an additional $5.4 million in economic activity=$15.8 million

n Borough employment impact=$11.1 million

n Spent $2.3 million on goods/services from 200+ borough businesses

n This study is now three years old and KPC's enrollment has skyrocketed, which has resulted in an even greater economic impact:

n Semester credit hours increased by 37 percent, a larger percentage than any UA campus (including Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau). KPC was second in actual raw SCH increases with 3,528.

n Student headcount increased by 43 percent, a larger percentage than any other UA campus that has 200 or more enrolled students. KPC was second in actual raw increases with 634 more students.

n Degree seeking students increased 124 percent, a larger increase than any other UA campus. KPC experienced an increase of 840 students.

n In 2008/09, we distributed $3 million in financial aid to students. These are monies we distribute to students after we take out their tuition and fees. Once we add in VA and other agency funding we have distributed $4.5 million in aid. Students spend this on housing, food, taxes, etc. This money will turn over through the borough probably two times meaning these funds alone will have an economic impact of more than $9 million in your borough. By the way I'd thought you'd be interested, KPC had 28 veterans in 2007 and now enrolls 116.

n KPC is the largest community campus in the University of Alaska system and the fourth largest of the 15 university campuses.

n More than 2,500 students take our classes.

n More than 5 percent of the central peninsula borough population over the age of 18 attends KPC; the national average is less than 2 percent.

n KPC graduated 126 students last year and 93 of those were in "high demand career fields" as identified by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Just five short years ago these numbers were 68 and 51 respectively.

n On average we graduate more than 120 students with GEDs each year. These are students that never graduated from high school and are now more employable and many continue onto pursue college degrees. More than 400 students are enrolled in our Adult Basic Education program each year taking classes to receive a GED.

I estimate that our economic impact on the borough is now at least $17 million. For each dollar the borough provides us, you are getting $26.66 in return. The value of KPC providing a skilled workforce and educated, responsible and taxpaying borough residents? Priceless!

Let me also mention the two major construction projects that were approved by Alaskan voters for KPC in November. The state legislature and the voters believed enough in us to provide $14.5 million for a Career & Technical Center and $16 million for a student housing project. Talk about economic impact.

When I get phone calls from your constituents asking why we no longer offer a service due to lack of borough funding, when parents call and ask what happened to JumpStart, I will be giving them your phone number and you can explain it.

Sincerely,

Gary J. Turner

Gary J. Turner is the director of Kenai Peninsula College, a community campus system of the University of Alaska Anchorage. The KPC system is comprised of the Kenai River Campus in Soldotna, Kachemak Bay Campus in Homer, Resurrection Bay Extension Site in Seward and Anchorage Extension Site at the University Center. He is a member and former chair of the Alaska Select Committee on Legislative Ethics.

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