A digital sign welcomes faculty members and students Friday to the soon-to-begin 2023-24 academic year at Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

FAIRFIELD — With the fall semester launching this week, Kennebec Valley Community College is shaking off the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and charting an ambitious course that includes adding housing for students and new athletic programs.

The college is expecting between 2,200 to 2,400 new students this fall, which would represent the first increase in enrollment since 2015. Last fall, there were about 16,790 students enrolled at Maine’s seven community colleges.

“We’re most excited about returning to normal operations, and we are seeing students having the same energy about either returning or beginning classes this year,” said Crichton McKenna, dean of student affairs and enrollment at KVCC.

As enrollment numbers move upward, the college is pushing to expand its athletic program.

KVCC is introducing golf, track and field and cross-country for men and women, with plans to add basketball, baseball and softball in the coming years.

The athletic programs are intended to attract more students and increase community engagement, according to KVCC President Karen Normandin.


Meanwhile, the college has long been a commuter school, but administrators are developing plans to offer housing for students for the first time. Normandin said the intention is to offer a more complete, immersive college experience for students.

“By next fall (2024), we hope to have housing for at least 50 students that will provide them with an on-campus experience that includes residential living,” Normandin said, adding that student housing has been an for the past 15 years.

Normandin touted the benefits of attending KVCC through Maine’s free tuition program. The state in April 2022 launched the program with a one-time state investment of $20 million, an amount that benefited high school graduates from 2020 to this year. At one point, there were 6,400 students who attended community college in Maine for free.

The state budget adopted by the Legislature in July included another $15 million investment to extend the free tuition program. Students graduating from high school in 2024 or 2025 will be able to attend community college without paying tuition or fees, amounting to a savings of about $3,800 a year.

“Extending free college to the Classes of 2024 and 2025 tells today’s high school students that the state of Maine believes in them and is willing to invest in them and their future,” Maine Community College System President David Daigler said in a statement.

McKenna agreed, adding, “The Maine free college program has been helpful to us at KVCC as we have seen a more significant increase for fall this year than we saw in the first year.”


KVCC is continuing to modify its programming to allow for distance learning, and most classes can be attended remotely. The college, however, is encouraging students to participate in person to enhance training, skill development and other opportunities.

The opportunities include an expanded nursing program at KVCC and other community college campuses that is expected to allow the system to double the number of nursing graduates for a health care industry badly in need of them.

The college over the summer also received $803,000 in federal funding to establish a plumbing training facility. It is to include space to handle larger class sizes and provide an opportunity for students interested in pursuing careers in the plumbing and heating industries.

Gov. Janet Mills was at KVCC in July for a ceremony touting the college’s heat pump service training center. The school is training students to become heat pump technicians, which will be important as Mills pushes the installation of heat pumps at houses and businesses to reduce heating bills and achieve the state’s climate goals.

“We’re always looking at opportunities to meet business and industry requirements,” Normandin said, “so we are excited about the opportunities that workforce development is going to provide for the state and the college.”

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