Community college downshifts automotive classes, while another upgrades the program


WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A once-popular community college program is now downshifting and getting rid of its automotive classes.

With new cars and added features, the automotive industry is constantly changing. Barton Community College Instruction Vice President Elaine Simmons said that there was no way to keep the program afloat without the right funding and interest. 

“It hurts my heart that we’ve reached that day,” said Simmons. “When you look at a spreadsheet and you continually see declining enrollment and increased costs, it, unfortunately, leads you to these hard decisions.”

Simmons said she watched this program for over a decade. She said for the past five years, the college has debated whether it should go. 

“We’ve been noticing declining enrollment, and we’ve noticed differences in what some of our high school partners’ students are interested in. We’ve noticed differences in what our community members are interested in,” said Simmons. “It’s an industry like many that changes with lots of sophisticated changes, things that cost a lot of money in terms of training, props, aid supplements. It’s an expensive program.”

Simmons said local automotive groups were donating, but it needs a bigger partnership to keep it going.

“We did the best we could with the small grants that we had, and then donations we received, but a large-scale industry partnership, yeah, that would have been nice,” said Simmons. 

It’s those large partnerships and grant funding that WSU Tech Applied Technologies and General Education Vice President Jennifer Seymour said keeps their program turning. 

“Running technical education programs can be expensive. You want to be sure you have all the things your students need,” said Seymour. “We’ve been very lucky with industry partners who have donated things to us, but also grant funding, we really rely quite a bit on grant funding.”

WSU Tech sees the enrollment for the automotive classes fill up. There also is a newer program focusing on electric cars. Another big push is focusing on the students. 

“We have half-day programs where high school students can spend half their day with us, and that’s actually free for high school juniors and seniors to come take technical education,” said Seymour. “We have a program in Goddard where we offer our automotive program, and actually this summer we offered an introduction to automotive for incoming freshmen and sophomores, basic maintenance on your vehicle getting familiar with the vehicle getting them into the lab and the Bay Area and around cars so that hopefully we can pique their interest.”

WSU Tech is still enrolling for Automation. You can find that here at this link. 

As for Barton Community College, Simmons said other programs are thriving, but since the automotive program has stalled, it will have to go. 

“It’s not that we’re lacking that in other areas; we just weren’t able to forge that with this program,” said Simmons. 

Barton Community College plans to use the automotive space to enhance the welding program and bring in more carpentry classes.

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