At a time when many Sound Sound residents are laid off and need training for new careers, local community colleges are facing the stiffest cuts in years.
That’s why several hundreds of thousands of federal stimulus dollars are being spent to fund college classes for the unemployed – from truck driving courses to training to become a health care worker or a pastry artist.
The Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council is distributing $600,000 in stimulus money to community and technical colleges in Thurston, Lewis, Mason, Pacific and Grays Harbor counties.
The money has helped officials at South Puget Sound Community College offer extra sections of classes that they otherwise couldn’t afford, college spokeswoman Kellie Braseth said.
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State budget cuts reduced the college’s budget by $2 million in 2009-10, an 11 percent cut from the previous academic year.
“Our course offering is smaller, our staff is smaller,” Braseth said. “This has helped us a lot with providing some capacity which we otherwise wouldn’t have had.”
SPSCC is receiving a total of $170,000 to offer classes for displaced workers. Its offerings include Certified Nursing Assistant courses and a new training program called Building Information Modeling, which prepares students for specialized work with architectural firms.
The stimulus money also helped the school launch a new training initiative in hybrid vehicle repair.
SPSCC received $111,000 to integrate hybrid vehicle training into its existing automotive program.
Without the money, it would have taken the school four to five years to start a hybrid program, said Brent Chapman, the college’s dean of applied technology.
“This is stimulus money that was well worth it,” said automotive professor Norm Chapman, who is teaching a class of 19 students. “They’re basically learning a new occupation, and they’re going to walk out of here with some 21st-century skills.”
With the stimulus money, the college bought wrecked hybrid vehicles and tools for the students to use. The money also paid for faculty training and curriculum development.
Rocky Atwood, 34, of Olympia said he’s grateful for the specialized training as he prepares for a new career working on cars. He spent 15 years working in government contracting before being laid off in November, he said.
He said having financial help to retrain is making his transition much easier.
“I would have had to go into debt or get student loans or find a crappy night job to support myself,” Atwood said. “This is a new start.”
Melissa Santos: 253-552-7058