FAIRFIELD — Melissa Berry is on track to graduate in May from Kennebec Valley Community College with an associate degree in medical assisting.

The 47-year-old from Troy was unemployed after working at a call center when she decided to pursue a dream she had in high school of going into the medical field.

While initially placed on a waiting list for the medical assisting program, she started taking classes in medical office management.

When a slot became available last December, Berry switched programs.

She said she looks forward to being employed in a medical office, drawing blood, taking vital signs and giving vaccinations.

A lot of Mainers, it appears, also have realized that community colleges are a good deal, so much so that the demand is starting to exceed the supply.

Since the transition from technical to community colleges, the seven institutions of the Maine Community College System have grown 83 percent in combined enrollment, from 10,127 in 2003 to 18,548 this fall.

From 2010 to 2011, enrollment grew 4.3 percent, or an increase of 769 students systemwide.

This fall’s preliminary enrollment figures indicate Kennebec Valley Community College had the largest enrollment jump, at 6.5 percent, among state’s community colleges. At the beginning of October, 2,606 students were attending classes at the institution on Western Avenue.

“Demand remains high for our allied health and nursing programs, as well our trades and technology programs such as electrical lineworker technology. KVCC has also seen an increase in students beginning their academic careers at KVCC with plans to transfer to four-year institutions,” said President Barbara Woodlee.

In addition to its popular offerings in the health fields, Kennebec Valley Community College recently opened its groundbreaking, and state-of-the-art Solar Heating and Cooling Lab.

Participants who take a 40-hour course at the college will be able to prepare others for careers as solar energy installers. The Department of Energy selected KVCC to be one of nine regional resource and training sites across the United States.

In addition, Kennebec Valley Community College is negotiating with Good Will-Hinckley to buy the central portion, about 680 acres, of the sprawling 2,450-acre campus along U.S. Route 201 in Fairfield. The 121-year-old residential school served at-risk young people until its core operations closed summer of 2009 because of financial problems.

The purchase is expected to include cottages, the Alfond Recreation Center, farm, Averill School, President’s residence, and chapel.

Students at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, the state’s second magnet school headquartered on the Good Will-Hinckley campus, would be able to enroll at classes at KVCC.

KVCC’s affordability, job placement success, flexible scheduling, online courses, and willingness to provide opportunities for students to start at KVCC and transfer, have contributed to its popularity, according to Jonathan Humphrey, marketing specialist at Kennebec Valley Community College.

Cost for a full-time student taking 12 credit hours for two semesters at KVCC is about $5,076, said Humphrey. That includes tuition, fees, books and supplies.

While Kennebec Valley Community College has room to grow, Maine Community College System President John Fitzsimmons said not all of them do.

“Demand for all of our programs, particularly the trade and occupational offerings, remains strong, but the colleges lack the capacity to serve many more students. As a result, enrollment growth is slowing,” he said. “Again this year, we have had to turn away many qualified applicants. This is bad for those who seek a more secure future through a college degree and bad for the state’s economy which needs many more highly skilled workers.”

And for Berry, Kennebec Valley Community College has done more than improve her job skills. She recently ran for, and was elected, president of the Student Senate because she wanted to give back to the college that has given her so much.

“This has been the best experience,” she said. “From orientation to the campus tours to classes, people here are eager to help you succeed. It’s like a big family.”

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]


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