Category Archives: Kenai Peninsula College

Budgeting for quality — U of Alaska tries to trim costs without losing students

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Redoubt Reporter file photo. KPC’s Career and Technical Education Center’s simulator lab at the Kenai River Campus. The equipment is patterned after what students will encounter working in the oil and gas fields. KPC is recognized within the university system for its career readiness programs and community support for its JumpStart dual-credit high school program.

Redoubt Reporter file photo. KPC’s Career and Technical Education Center’s simulator lab at the Kenai River Campus. The equipment is patterned after what students will encounter working in the oil and gas fields. KPC is recognized within the university system for its career readiness programs and community support for its JumpStart dual-credit high school program.

Of the many forms of budget wrangling going on in Alaska these days, the University of Alaska’s challenge is a particularly difficult one — to handle an as-yet unknown deficit number in such a way that doesn’t put itself further in the hole by driving away one of its main sources of revenue — students.

“There’s a very strong commitment to quality, to access and to affordability,” said University President Jim Johnsen during a visit to the central Kenai Peninsula last week. “Those are the three criteria that we are focused on as we evaluate what we do and how we do it, academically and administratively.”

The University Board of Regents recently approved an operating budget for next fiscal year that includes about $378 million in state funding, up 7.6 percent more than last year. That’s including a 5 percent tuition hike approved in February and another 5 percent approved in November. Johnsen said it’s a lean budget that covers the university’s fixed costs, and he’s outspoken about the importance of fulfilling the university’s mission to offer higher education throughout Alaska.

“And it really, I think, has to do with meeting the state’s need for work force, contributing to economic development and diversification in our state, for producing an informed citizenry … and also in solving the state’s problems,” he said.

There are some options for generating more revenue. The University of Fairbanks is a world leader in Arctic research, for example, and there are opportunities for commercializing research as well as drawing more research funding.

Johnsen also advocates for expanding ties with the business community, both in terms of donations — especially with a higher education tax credit in Alaska that rewards businesses for donations to the university — and in terms of lobbying support.

“When we go to Juneau, they know why we’re there, but when, name the company, if they go and speak on behalf of the university, that’s invaluable for us,” he said.

Alumni should expect to hear more pleas for financial support, and a fundraising campaign is in the works.

At the same time, the university is preparing four budget scenarios to meet a range of potential cuts, from $15 million to $58 million.

“We expect budget cuts, and so pressure will definitely be on the university, ‘What are you going to do? How are you going to consolidate programs? What programs are you going to eliminate? What programs are you going to reduce? How are you going to rationalize your administration and bring those administrative costs down?’” he said.

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Kenai Peninsula College attempts to cut budget, not character

Redoubt Reporter file photo. Kenai Peninsula College’s residence hall on the Kenai River Campus opened in 2013. Funding for another large project like this likely won’t be on the horizon anytime soon as the university system and KPC face budget deficits.

Redoubt Reporter file photo. Kenai Peninsula College’s residence hall on the Kenai River Campus opened in 2013. Funding for another large project like this likely won’t be on the horizon anytime soon as the university system and KPC face budget deficits.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Kenai Peninsula College got high marks last week during a visit from the University of Alaska’s newly appointed present, Dr. Jim Johnsen.

“KPC provides a really important role for the university system. It plays a really, really important function in providing access to high-quality and, I would say, cost-effective higher education for the people here,” Johnsen said.

Johnsen specifically praised the school for being a pathway to jobs, for its e-learning capabilities and the school’s JumpStart program, allowing high school students to take college classes at a reduced cost, thanks to funding from the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

“The investment this community is making in the future opportunities for its kids is impressive. And that’s something to be really proud of here,” Johnsen said.

As with all the university’s community campuses, KPC isn’t just an institution for learning. Its function is multifaceted.

“We play an important role, not just an educational role in those communities, but a cultural role, a community center-type role, we’re often the library of the community, we’re often the gathering place of the community. So we’ll continue to play those important roles,” Johnsen said.

As the University of Alaska faces a difficult budget with a deficit of anywhere from $15 million to $57 million, depending on the depth of the funding cuts from the governor and Legislature, Johnsen assures that the community campuses won’t be asked to bear a disproportionate amount of the cost-cutting burden.

“They’re just critical, and to do something like — as has been suggested to me, ‘To just shut down the community campuses.’ It’s a nonstarter in my book,” he said.

The community campuses could play a big part in getting the university back on firmer financial footing. Enrollment is down about 4.5 percent across the university system. That’s largely because Alaska high school enrollments are down, which narrows a big pipeline of new university students. As KPC Director Gary Turner points out, it’s also from competition from other universities.

“It’s the University of Phoenix, it’s Southern New Hampshire, my gosh. There’s 12, 13, 15 universities operating in our state that are not the University of Alaska. That’s a big deal. We’re losing market share,” Turner said.

E-learning is a way to draw new students within Alaska, and beyond.

“The Board of Regents has created four different task forces, one being about e-learning and how do we make it more robust, how do we serve our students? Do we want to recruit more out of state? Do we want to recruit more internationally?” Turner said.

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There in spirit — Kalifornsky Village leaves rich legacy

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Dr. Alan Boraas, professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College, leads a tour of Kalifornsky Village last month. The Native settlement was abandoned in the 1920s but is still home to a rich cultural history.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Dr. Alan Boraas, professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College, leads a tour of Kalifornsky Village last month. The Native settlement was abandoned in the 1920s but is still home to a rich cultural history.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

These days, there isn’t much to see of Kalifornsky Village. An unmarked footpath leads away from Kalifornsky Beach Road into the woods, single-file and nondescript. You wouldn’t know it was there unless you knew it was there.

Dead trees and undergrowth have been cleared recently along the muddy path winding toward the bluff overlooking Cook Inlet, affording a clearer view of more branches and tree trunks, sprouting among indentations in the undulating ground.

The structures have long since been dismantled or disintegrated, and the Dena’ina Natives who once lived here were the original “leave no trace” campers, considering it bad form to leave much of anything behind.

Farther along, near the slowly, steadily eroding bluff, there’s two obvious indications of human habitation, or, at least, expiration — a hand-hewn, falling-down fence ringing a cemetery that contains 16 graves, with another just outside, the paint flaking off the whitewashed Russian Orthodox crosses with their telltale slanted bars. Just beyond it, closer to the bluff, is another fence, surrounding the site of an old Russian Orthodox chapel.

But who had lived here? Who had died here? Who is buried here? There is no explanation as far as the untrained eye can see. But on April 15, there was plenty of history for the ears to hear and the mind to ponder. A group of about 15 joined Kenai Peninsula College anthropology professor Alan Boraas on a tour of Kalifornsky Village, to get a sense, through senses beyond just sight, of what is so special about the place.

“How many times have people driven by here — going to wherever they’re going, doing whatever — tucked away in this woods, this remarkable place, this powerful place. That we hope will continue to be a powerful place,” Boraas said. “I’m not saying it will be spiritual to everyone, but it’s a place where we can tell the story of the Kenai Peninsula in many different ways, in dimensions that are far beyond the, ‘Gosh, that’s interesting. Hey, that’s interesting,’ but really get to the core of the relation between people and place. That’s what’s important.”

Kalifornsky Village, or Unhghenesditnu, meaning “farthest creek over” in Dena’ina, was founded by Qadanachen Kalifornsky in about 1820 on the Cook Inlet bluff four miles north of the Kasilof River mouth. Qadanachen had just returned from working at Fort Ross, about 100 miles north of San Francisco, built by the Russian American Company to grow grain to feed Russian colonies. The grain was a bust, rotted by the damp climate.

Qadanachen’s heart was likewise deteriorating, from sadness at being away from home. He had brought a bag of soil from his home village of Ski’tuk at the mouth of the Kenai River, which gave him some comfort of connection. He wrote a song about his homesickness.

“‘Another dark night has come over me, we may never return to our home, but do your best in life, that is what I do.’ When your break down the third line, ‘do your best in life,’ it could easily be translated as, ‘live to enhance your soul.’ ‘Another dark night’ — we all have them, and will have them. Do what you can to live to enhance your soul,” Boraas said.

When Qadanachen returned home, he found disputes in the Kenai village and decided to establish a new village with his clanspeople, choosing an old village site dating back to prehistoric times. Dena’ina thrived here long before European explorers came to Alaska, living in multifamily log houses, called nichił, which were partially dug into the ground, with a hearth in a large room for sleeping, warming and cooking, and smaller rooms along the sides. Scattered around in the woods were food cache pits, in which Dena’ina would preserve the summer catch of salmon to sustain them through the winter.

In the second occupation of Kalifornsky Village, they built new houses and planted gardens. And there was a log Russian Orthodox chapel, where a priest from Kenai would visit periodically to tend to the spiritual needs of the villagers. Dena’ina spirituality and the imported Russian Orthodox religion were an amicable fit.

“Spirits and angels, powers of place, powers of ritual — all of these things would have been common, and just as many Dena’ina and Yup’ik today do not see serious conflict between the orthodoxy that they practice and the traditional ways,” Boraas said.

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Being idle not in his nature — KPC biology prof retiring, will continue studies

Photos courtesy of Kenai Peninsula College. Dr. David Wartinbee works with students in one of his classes in the biology department. He’s retiring at the end of this semester.

Photos courtesy of Kenai Peninsula College. Dr. David Wartinbee works with students in one of his classes in the biology department. He’s retiring at the end of this semester.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Change comes at a slower pace to the Kenai-Soldotna area, but even here things can’t stay the same forever, and Kenai Peninsula College will soon adjust to the loss of one of its longest-serving professors.

“I’m going to miss the teaching part and seeing students move on to bigger things,” said David Wartinbee, professor of biology, who has taught human anatomy, microbiology and numerous other science classes at the college for the past 18 years.

Wartinbee has decided that this will be his last semester teaching full time, but said he is not reconsidering his long-ago decision to settle and work in this area. He and his wife first visited Alaska in the early 1980s and, like many seduced on a vacation, they decided they should move to the Last Frontier.

“My wife and I drove up on the Alcan, which was gravel and pretty rigorous back then, but we fell in love with Alaska — the mountains, everything about this place,” he said.

At the time, Wartinbee was teaching in the Lower 48. After earning his doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh in 1975, and following that up with a Juris Doctor degree to practice law in 1993, he began teaching and earned a professorship at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania.

Though they had lost their hearts in Alaska, they couldn’t bring the rest of themselves north at the time.

“We looked for jobs, but didn’t find any right away, at least none that appealed to us. I was offered a biologist position with (the Alaska Department of) Fish and Game, but it was down in Ketchikan and it rains too much there for us,” he said.

They refused to give up on their northern dream, though, so while Wartinbee continued teaching in Pennsylvania, and even retired after 22 years of it, they continued making annual sojourns to Alaska, looking for work and land.

“We kept coming back for 14 years, exploring different parts of the state. If you can drive there, we’ve been there. We wanted to get the flavor of each part of the state to find where would be right for us,” he said.

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College braces for cuts — Faculty, students offer budgeting suggestions

150px-KpclogoBy Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

For Kenai Peninsula College, the question isn’t whether a financial cut is coming, it’s, by how much? Will KPC escape with a minor paper cut, will it be able to make a precision knife slice, or will it suffer a hefty whack from the budget axe?

KPC Director Gary Turner said he doesn’t yet know what the budget will look like for next year, but given the bleak deficit budget the state is facing, he’s preparing for cuts across the University of Alaska System. Last year KPC saw a budget cut of about 4.5 percent. This year, Turner said he’s guessing at a cut of around 7 percent.

“Who knows where it’s going to wind up by the time the governor gets the budget in a couple of months, but we have to plan to be ready,” he said.

Redoubt Reporter file photo. Gary Turner, Kenai Peninsula College director.

Redoubt Reporter file photo. Gary Turner, Kenai Peninsula College director.

Turner said that the leadership team at KPC began serious discussions along those lines last month and will continue to meet and discuss, looking at the four areas in which to approach a budget reduction — increasing revenue, generating new revenue, cutting costs and avoiding costs.

“You have to do a lot of tactical thinking and strategic thinking and we’re doing that. We’re on that path and we will continue to meet like this throughout the semester.”

KPC can’t make large-scale changes on its own, without the Board of Regents — such as increasing tuition or adding a new degree program. But there are some things it can control, from cutting down on copy paper to recruiting and retaining more students in order to increase tuition revenue, and the option Turner hopes can be avoided — cutting positions.

“We’re looking at all those, things from the small things up to the major things, but the challenge we have is that 73 percent of our costs are in personnel.”

KPC is taking a page from Gov. Bill Walker’s website and is requesting suggestions from its community, including faculty, staff, students and the college council. There is a link on the KPC home page to submit budgetary ideas.

“I have a lot of smart people that work for me and work with me, we’re going to do fine.”

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Happy 50th KP you and me — Borough, college, school district celebrate golden anniversary

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Kenai Peninsula College Director Gary Turner points toward the new Career and Technical Center and the residence hall at KPC while talking about how far the education institution has come in the past 50 years during a golden-anniversary celebration for KPC, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and school district held Thursday at the college.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Kenai Peninsula College Director Gary Turner points toward the new Career and Technical Center and the residence hall at KPC while talking about how far the education institution has come in the past 50 years during a golden-anniversary celebration for KPC, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and school district held Thursday at the college.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

It’s been said that from humble beginnings, great things will grow, and these words appropriately describe the inception of the Kenai Peninsula Borough and school district, as well as Kenai Peninsula College — all of which celebrated their 50th anniversary last week during a barbecue at KPC.

It can be difficult to imagine how far these entities have come and how much the entire area has grown, especially since many current residents are more recent transplants to this area. The landscape was much different in 1964, when only around 12,000 people called the peninsula home, versus the roughly 58,000 living here in 2014.

“Fifty years ago it was a very rural community with only the main highway being paved and most of the other roads gravel. There were no stoplights, because there was a lot less traffic,” said borough Mayor Mike Navarre.

It was black gold that led to much of the growth of this area, he said.

“A big reason why we were finally approved for statehood was because of the Swanson River oil discovery,” Navarre said. “That was an indication, to Congress, that Alaska would have the financial resources to afford some of the costs of government. Of course, that’s what drove the initial growth of the Kenai Peninsula during the 1960s — oil development both on and offshore.”

It took a lot of people to work the oilfields, wellheads and processing centers.

“The population grew pretty fast during the mid to late ’60s and early ’70s, driven by the jobs associated with oil development, including the Swanson River Fields, platforms in Cook Inlet, Union Chemical (Collier/Agrium) fertilizer plant, Phillips LNG plant, Tesoro and related infrastructure (docks and service companies),” Navarre said. “Of course, economic growth spurred population growth and the need for housing developments, schools, airport expansion, the hospital, etc.”

Navarre remembered that when he was in junior high, students were managed in a split shift because the student population exceeded the space available at that time. This swelling of students led to many changes in the school district.

From roughly 2,600 students in a handful of classrooms in 1964, the school district has grown to 8,932 enrolled students in 44 schools covering 25,600 square miles, a land area roughly equivalent to the size of West Virginia.

“When you review the various bits of information that are available about what things were like for our schools 50 years ago, you can quickly discern the KPBSD was a much different district than it is today,” Superintendent Steve Atwater said.

“One of the more telling differences of then and now is that the budget for January until June of 1964 was only $23,000,” he said. “Today, that amount is about what we spend in 20 minutes of a school day.”

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KPC history flagged for remembrance — College readies 50-year anniversary time capsule

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Gary Turner, current director of Kenai Peninsula College, reads the original telegram approving the decision made to found the school on July 1, 1964, during a ceremony July 1, 2014.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Gary Turner, current director of Kenai Peninsula College, reads the original telegram approving the decision made to found the school on July 1, 1964, during a ceremony July 1, 2014.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

The story of the beginning of Kenai Peninsula College could easily be an example of the butterfly effect, as the hard work of founding director, Clayton Brockel, has resulted in significant changes to the educational landscape of the Kenai Peninsula since the college’s inception 50 years ago far beyond the impact of just one man.

In an effort to commemorate the founding of the school on July 1, 1964, and to honor the dedication of the recently deceased Brockel, a small ceremony was held July 1 by KPC staff. The college raised a U.S. flag presented to the school by Brockel’s wife, Jean, which was given to Brockel when he was discharged from the Navy after World War II.

“The flag will be lowered at 8 a.m., July 2, and will be placed in the KPC time capsule with instructions for the flag to be flown again on July 1, 2064, to honor our 100th anniversary and our founder,” said current KPC Director Gary Turner, on the day of the event.

Gone but not forgotten is a phrase often applied to the departed, but in Brockel’s case the saying exceeds the cliché, as his legacy will endure for years to come, according to Turner.

“It’s one thing to be a college director, but not too many people are college founders,” he said. “And creating KPC was no easy thing. There was a lot of controversy over locations, struggles for funding and getting the word out, which Clay did by traveling from Hope to Homer at a time when there wasn’t much of a road to speak of.”

Alan Boraas, professor of anthropology at KPC, has taught at the college since 1973 and has seen his share of directors, and said that Brockel was in a class of his own. And unlike more modern college planners, Brockel had no 20- to 30-year development plan to follow in the inception and growth of the college. He just cannonballed into the idea.

Jean Brockel flips through the first copy of a new book, “Keeping the Fire Burning: A 50-Year History of KPC,” which is presently being printed as part of the college system’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Jean Brockel flips through the first copy of a new book, “Keeping the Fire Burning: A 50-Year History of KPC,” which is presently being printed as part of the college system’s 50th anniversary celebration.

“(Brockel) did this before feasibility studies and long-range planning. It was a time when people said, ‘We should do this,’ so they did,” Boraas said.

Brockel did it well, too, Boraas said, wheedling money for the college when it was needed without antagonizing the other educational institutions or the legislators that were often competing for those same funds.

It wasn’t easy, said Brockel’s wife, Jean, herself a former KPC adjunct instructor. She remembers a lot of times of strife, especially during the early years.

“There were a lot of down times, when he felt like he was banging his head against the wall with the usual bureaucratic stuff,” she said. “But in his mind, the potential was always there for something, and that that something would be good. Clayton was a true believer in education and believed it was the key to anything and everything.”

Boraas remembers Brockel driving around in “Ol’ Blue,” his 1963 Chevy Biscayne, to do college business.

“Clayton had a unique style,” Boraas said. “We didn’t have a lot of meetings. He’d drive — not just with me, but with others — and he’d think and talk one on one while driving.”

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