EDENTON – Albemarle College’s new truck driving program is only in the middle of instructing its second batch of students and is already looking to expand.
The program, offered by COA’s Edenton-Chowan campus and taught at Edenton’s Northeast Regional Airport, began with six students in January. Four graduated from the program and obtained their commercial driver’s license. Within a week of graduation, each graduate had a job, said program coordinator and instructor Scott Breon.
The second group of the program, consisting of seven students, is currently taking classes Monday to Friday from 8 .m. at 5 p.m. Robin Zinsmeister, administrator of the COA-Chowan campus, said the students range in age from 21 to about 65.
Class sizes are smaller than the COA would like, but some factors, including the coronavirus pandemic, are limiting student numbers.
“We would like to be able to handle larger cohorts,” Zinsmeister said, referring to groups of students in the program. “Some of that can be attributed to COVID.
Due to pandemic-related space limitations, it is difficult to enter the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles to obtain a commercial driver’s license – a requirement before students can participate in the driving program of truck. Students must wait for an appointment, Zinsmeister said.
Another barrier to increasing class sizes is the program’s lack of equipment and class options. The program currently has two trucks and two trailers. COA is actively looking for more vehicles, Zinsmeister said.
“What we wish we could do is expand,” she said. “With COVID protocols, we have to be very careful about how many people we put in the truck. We know we need additional equipment to be able to continue to expand the program.
COA applied for a grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation to purchase more equipment, as well as lighting for the airport’s unused runway that the students use to practice truck driving.
Potential employers have noted the need for drivers to know how to control a loaded truck, a truck in which the weight can shift as the truck climbs hills, rounds curves, or makes turns. The ACO is working on the purchase of a flatbed trailer to help learner drivers learn to control a loaded trailer. The standard trailer length is 53 feet.
Breon said the truck driving program should also offer evening classes.
“The current program suits those who are currently unemployed,” he said. “But for those who work, we have to give them the chance to work and then go to school in the evening. We hope to have this operational by the end of the year. »
During the 10-week program, students typically complete their class work on Monday and drive the other four days of the week.
“When we’re in class, there are 35 chapters in the textbook,” Breon said. “We go through each chapter, have 35 quizzes for each chapter and a final test at the end.”
Breon has installed stations on the Northeast Regional Airport runway that match the specifications of the CDL test proposed by NCDMV. Students practice shifting gears, hard turns, four types of parking and other maneuvers for four to five weeks before they can start practicing on the roads.
The COA Truck Driving Program is open to anyone 18 years of age or older. However, graduates cannot use their commercial driver’s license in states other than North Carolina until age 21, Breon said.
The COA program costs $575, while most commercial driver’s license courses at a community college cost around $8,000, Breon said.
Zinmeister said there are currently a number of scholarship programs for students, including GEAR, or the Governor’s Educational Emergency Relief Fund, which is part of the Federal Aid Act. , coronavirus relief and economic security passed by Congress.
The GEAR scholarship will pay for tuition and books for the truck driving course, Zinmeister said. There is no income requirement to receive the scholarship, she said.
“We encourage everyone to apply because we want to advance them through the program,” she said. “If someone is sitting at home and thinking, ‘Oh, I’d love to try, but I can’t pay for this.’ We have scholarships at the moment.
Zinmeister said she believes only one COA student has had to pay out of pocket for the truck driving course so far.
Ray Godfrey, who retired from the Coast Guard in January, said he was looking for something to do in retirement. So he signed up for the COA’s truck driving program.
“I hadn’t even been in a cab before this class,” said Godfrey, who lives in Elizabeth City. “I already know how to back up and do staggered parking. I think around the fourth or fifth week we’ll be on the road. Because going from zero experience to being at this point is very impressive.
Breon said three female students have taken the course so far. Women represent approximately 11% of all truck drivers in the industry.
Marlene Pippen, an Elizabeth City resident from Hertford, is among the current group of students in the scheme.
Pippen’s husband has been driving a truck for 27 years. She used to ride with him and hopes to continue to do so after she graduates – as an equal riding partner.
“I got my license 17 years ago and then found out I was pregnant with our youngest son,” she said. “This time I am determined to get my license.”
Zinmeister said CDL testers at NCDMV have complimented COA-Chowan’s program, saying its graduates are very well prepared for the test.
The DMV likes the COA-Chowan program so much that it was considering using it as a testing site, Breon said. However, it was too far from the local NCDMV office which offers commercial licenses.
Breon recently participated in a week-long program offered by the NCDMV to obtain certification for the COA-Chowan campus as a third-party testing site. The COA site will be inspected by the North Carolina Department of Transportation and must be in operation for six months before certification can be achieved.
“What’s great is that our students can test on our site and no longer have to wait in line,” Zinmeister said. “If you need to test at a DMV site, you need to request an appointment. Depending on the time of year and the number of people applying, there may be a backlog. We want to pave this way for our students.