BCC will close its automotive program

Barton Community College’s auto program is coming to an end, but another form of technical vocational education could take its place, vice president of instruction Elaine Simmons told BCC administrators.

The official closure of the program is on the agenda of the Board of Directors during its meeting of 27 July. The expensive program has been plagued by low enrollment for years, she said.

“I hated to think years ago that this day would come, but we’re here.”

CEO Mike Johnson agreed. “Every time you close a program, it’s never something positive,” he said.

“Last year we had no new students,” said Mary Foley, Barton’s executive director of Workforce Training and Economic Development. The last six students have recently completed the training.

In 2015, the automotive education was realigned so that high school students could graduate with a certificate in auto maintenance and light repair. Some Great Bend High School students enrolled in the courses at the time, but Great Bend USD 428 Superintendent Khris Thexton said the high school stopped offering cars to students last year.

“GBHS added welding and that impacted automotive enrollment,” Simmons said.

Some of the automotive equipment at Barton can be used by maintenance personnel, while larger items such as elevators and tire-mounting machines can be sold, Foley said.

The next question is what to do with the space occupied by the automotive program. The college has a partnership with Case-New Holland to train the company’s service technicians and field staff. Perhaps that partnership could be expanded, Simmons suggested. “It’s always been a closed program, just for those who are already with dealers,” she said. An engineering program open to the public could be a possibility.

“Those are starting conversations,” she said, adding that there are other ways the space could be used. Barton’s welding program is being expanded. Barton also closes his carpentry and plumbing programs at the Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility. A proposal has been drawn up to hold a carpentry class on campus in January.

Board Chairman Mike Johnson noted that when the college received approval from the Kansas Board of Regents to teach carpentry at the correctional facility, it was approved for both locations. Plumbing can also be approved, he said. He asks if the trajectory to offer a new program will take a year.

“It shouldn’t take that long,” Foley said, adding that it could take three or four months to get approval from the Kansas Department of Education and the Higher Learning Commission. “I’m hopeful we can pick it up pretty soon.”

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