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posted: 3/23/2017 1:00 AM

Editorial: Community colleges help students find jobs on the road and in the trades.

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  • Student Justin Suarez of Elgin backs up a trailer during truck driving class at Elgin Community College. There is a huge need for truck drivers today.

      Student Justin Suarez of Elgin backs up a trailer during truck driving class at Elgin Community College. There is a huge need for truck drivers today.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

We in the suburbs take great pride in our schools with their high test scores, low dropout rates and the numbers of kids who go on to college.

We celebrate our STEM programs that introduce more kids to careers in the sciences.

With the investment we all make, we should expect our kids to achieve and our schools to help them realize their potential.

But what we don't always consider are the educational opportunities here for those who choose not to attend college, those who don't want to spend the first half of their careers paying off student loans, those who need to start earning a living now and those who must undergo career changes midlife and need to reinvent themselves.

Our Madhu Krishnamurthy wrote this week about Elgin Community College's truck driving school, which is a 16-week course that has a nearly 100 percent pass rate and almost guarantees to earn a $60,000 job upon completion.

Don Anderson, a former truck driver who leads the course, said, "It's probably the fastest, least-known way to get a skilled job and get right in the workforce. I don't think people realize they can change their life in a matter of 16 weeks."

ECC has run its rigorous truck driving course for more than 20 years. ECC also has long been known for its Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning program.

ECC is not alone. As community colleges have grown into mini universities during the past couple decades, they have not forgotten their roots -- or the niches they can fill when it comes to prepping people for the needs of the workforce.

Harper College in Palatine has a fire science technology program as well as manufacturing program that partners with local businesses.

College of Lake County in Grayslake has a mechatronics program that qualifies people to install, maintain, modify and repair automated machinery used in manufacturing.

Oakton Community College offers nanotechnology training in Skokie.

And Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove has been recognized for its automotive technology program.

But not many can boast the type of immediate payoff ECC's trucking program offers.

Marshall Wright, a high school grad from Elgin who stocked shelves for Coca-Cola, took the course and now makes more driving for Coke.

"My first year I made $60,000," he said. "Guys who are in college for four years would kill to have that kind of salary, and I'm not indebted in student loan, either.

"I just saw it as a better opportunity to make more money. It puts food on the table, pays my mortgage."

And for some, that's the most important thing.

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