Alaska Christian College celebrated its commencement on Sunday, April 25, following a year of disruption amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The college is owned and operated by the Alaska Conference of the Covenant Church and serves predominantly Alaska Native students from villages across the state. It offers two-year associate of arts degrees with emphasis on Christian ministry, paraprofessional education, behavioral health, and general studies. Transitioning from remote village life to college settings can be difficult, so ACC works intentionally to help students make that adjustment.
Making the transition from in-person classes to entirely virtual learning presented unique challenges in that setting.
In March 2020, ACC quickly evacuated its entire student body. When the school learned that remote villages, many of which are accessible only by airplane, were closing to outsiders to avoid the spread of the virus, staff and faculty helped students pack in the middle of the night and drove them 150 miles to the airport in Anchorage so they could make it home.
It was especially critical that the villages prevent outbreaks of the virus. Access to emergency medical care is nearly impossible in some of those locations where the nearest hospital is 100 miles away. The influenza epidemic of 1918 nearly wiped out entire communities, and village leaders were working hard to prevent a similar catastrophe.
ACC shifted to offering classes online. However, many of the students did not have access to the internet, said Eric Johnson, vice president of advancement. “ACC worked hard to provide alternative ways to help students succeed. This included sending students thumb drives with packets of work.”
Those provisions temporarily addressed the need last spring, but the school asked students to return to campus in the fall to resume in-person learning.
Funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allowed ACC to rent an unused dormitory building from Kenai Peninsula College, located across the street. Using those rooms, as well as those on the ACC campus, allowed students to socially distance in their own rooms.
Enrollment has remained strong, Johnson said. Ninety-one students were enrolled in spring 2020 and 98 this past fall.
“Some certainly struggled due to the changes, but students demonstrated resilience and persevered to meet the unique challenges they faced this year,” Johnson said.
Few students contracted the virus, and no one suffered serious illness, Johnson said. He added that villages will probably require returning students to quarantine for two weeks when they come home.
Alaska Christian College was launched in 2001 offering a one-year certificate program and has been recognized by state officials for its excellence.
It continues to expand and is nearing the end of a $5 million capital campaign to fund construction that includes new classrooms and a gymnasium.