Community members listen to remarks from U.S. Senator Jerry Moran at a recent town hall at Seward County Community College’s West Campus to announce funding for the school CDL program. L&T photo/Robert Pierce

ROBERT PIERCE

     • Leader & Times

 

Construction on Seward County Community College’s new West Campus is under way, and Vice President of Career Technical Education Dr. Amber Jones said she is excited about the process she said is going well.

Jones said SCCC’s truck driving program, which will be housed at the West Campus when it is complete, has been need of some expansion for some time.

“There is a significant demand regionally and nationally for truck drivers,” she said. “We’re excited about the progress. The expansion to a Garden City location has been smooth, and we’re looking at ways to get students through there as well. We’re pretty excited about the opportunities in that program.”

Jones said the need for truck drivers continues to be high, with an estimated to 600 to 800 new drivers needed in the Southwest Kansas, Oklahoma Panhandle and Texas Panhandle region annually.

“We have a very large demand in this area because we’re rural,” she said. “We’re landlocked, and other than trains, we don’t have enough transportation. The infrastructure we have is built around truck driving.”

Jones said this is likely to continue in the future even with automated opportunities that may come.

“That’s going to be a long time from now, so we’re looking for those opportunities to expand, especially with the growth of industry and dairies in our area,” she said.

Jones said while trains do help in some capacities, they still do not provide much benefit.

“So many of our goods are on the roads, and trains, even 40 miles south of here into Texas in Perryton, some of those are completely landlocked with no trains,” she said. “How do we get those goods from here? If there’s a train here, how do we get them to areas that don’t have trains? That’s where we have to make sure those roads are utilized safely.”

SCCC recently hosted a town hall with U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, and at the event, President Brad Bennett said the truck driving portion of the West Campus should be complete by September. Dr. Jones said the diesel technology program will be moved to the campus eventually, but first, a shop will need to be constructed to allow for live work and labs for the program.

“That’s going to take significantly more time because the building of the shop doesn’t just happen overnight, and then we’ll have the ability to move forward with that,” Jones said.

Jones said getting both the truck driving school and the diesel technology program in the West Campus is a process, and for now, those two programs will be the only ones scheduled to move there. However, she added with growth and expansion bringing changes, SCCC will continue to adapt to those changes.

“In two to three years, I hope we’ll have both programs over there,” she said. “Some of the funds we’re getting from the grants we received to help finance that endeavor aren’t available until August, September or October. Some of those things we need to do for the transfer won’t even be possible until later. We’re always looking for people who interested in supporting those programs and donating so we can make that move a little quicker.”

When the truck driving school and diesel technology program are moved out of the Industrial Technology campus, this will leave room for other programs to be built and expanded, and Jones said there are programs SCCC is trying to develop and build.

“One of the most exciting things about my new role is I will be able to move a little quicker and develop some of the programs I’ve been wanting to explore, making sure we have the industry need and the occupational need and those jobs are going to benefit students,” she said. “We’re looking at several options currently, and hopefully, those expansion ideas will be able to utilize some of those spaces.”

Jones said the expansion of the diesel technology program will be a big benefit, and it will give the program a shop with enough height clearance to fit large semis.

“Those projects have to be done outside, weather permitting, and the shop really isn’t conducive to over-the-road trucks as much as it should be,” she said of the current shop for diesel technology. “That’ll give them more opportunities in the classroom and more opportunities for students.”

The truck driving school’s current location is a small one, and Jones said school leaders are excited about the chance to expand the present enrollment cap SCCC has to maintain due to not having the size to grow at the IT campus.

“We’re also excited about looking at other avenues and opportunities, and hopefully with some of the grant funds, we’ll be able to utilize some training for students who are duel credit students to get that,” she said. “They don’t get a full license and CDL, but they can get an interstate license. They can drive within the state of Kansas, but they can get some of that experience in a lab type classroom and get out on the range and get through the program while they’re in high school.”

Therefore, Jones hopes to grow the capacity of the truck driving program with the new location at the West Campus.

“We’re already doing that by purchasing trucks and hiring more instructors,” she said. “One of the limitations of that program is when they’re on the range, the instructor doesn’t have to sit in the truck with them, but once they start doing some of the over-the-road training, in the city training and outside on the rural roads, anytime they leave that range and they go outside of our facility, they have to have an instructor in the truck. They have to have so many hours of that time and that experience, and you can only fit so many students in a truck with one instructor. “

For this reason, in recent years, Jones said the number of instructors has likewise had to be expanded, and she is looking for opportunities to continue building the truck driving program.

“Currently, it’s a six-week course, but we may be looking at opportunities where it’s a longer course we have, but they only meet in the evenings or weekends,” she said. “Trying to find the right instructors to facilitate that is going to be one of our obstacles.”

Jones said all of this would allow SCCC to serve constituents in both Liberal and Seward County to get CDLs with the school in the most efficient and effective way.

“Having those talks is something I look forward to as well,” she said.

With a new home for both truck driving and diesel technology, Jones said SCCC looks to double or triple enrollment in the programs in the next three years, and that is just the beginning for the programs.

“That’s something we’re going to continue – to look for ways to expand,” she said. “We’re not going to just double the enrollment and stop. We’re looking  at how can we expand our capacity in that program and looking for ways to think out of the box there so we’re training students correctly and they’re getting the skills they need to be successful and safe in that industry, but also do our very best to meet the need of our area.”

Jones said this means schools such as SCCC are running behind when it comes to training new drivers.

“Even if we’re producing 100 students a year, and I think it’s more than that, we still need to get five times that many students through,” she said. “How do we do that and ensure we’re still providing the quality of education, not just rushing them through and rubber stamping it, but training these students well, making sure they’re safe, but also making sure they have an economical value and educational experience?”

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