On the Road Again

Distance education program at Chattanooga State Technical Community College reaches for a new constituency: truckers.
August 15, 2006

Talk about non-traditional students. They might be in 10 different states in three days, doing homework at truck stops.

But Chattanooga State Technical Community College is set to take on the challenge of bringing higher ed to the men and women who bring America everything from eggs to liquid nitrogen.

Chattanooga State joined with Trans-Markets Technologies, a local a trucking software and systems provider, to offer “In Cab University,” an assortment of online courses that they hope will appeal to truckers.

Roger Haston, director of In Cab, said that the college did some market analysis, and found a lot of truckers saying that they’d welcome higher education, if they could take it on the road.

Haston said that some truckers would like to take courses en route to entering management, while others “just want to stay doing what they’re doing,” he said, “they enjoy the serenity of it.”

TransMarkets polled 226 drivers Chattanooga, and 174 said that they would be interested in education on the road.

Haston said that enrollment figures are still up in the air, but that Chattanooga State is hoping for a few hundred students. The drivers will essentially be choosing from online courses that Chattanooga already offers, but administered in ways that work for drivers.

Haston said that courses will be run using WebCT and that there will be a 24-hour helpline that fields both academic questions, and technical questions, if, for example, a student is having trouble connecting to the wireless Internet at a truck stop. Haston added that instructors won’t allow students to miss assignments, but that there will be some flexibility built in case, for example, routing orders for Kentucky get changed to California.

Haston said that the trucking industry is desperately seeking ways to slow the turnover rate of drivers, and that access to education might keep them in the cockpit longer.

Haston said that truckers expressed the most interest for courses in business, management, and computers.

Tom Weakly, director of Owner Operators Independent Drivers Association’s foundation, which does research on the industry and education for members, said that In Cab University is the first educational program he’s heard of aimed at truckers.

Weakly said that the courses could work if they specifically target the practical applications that drivers want to learn about. “Truckers are a little different group that has unique needs and perspectives,” Weakly said. He added that, he doesn’t think that “a course like general accounting is going to go over well,” but that courses that are tailored to business applications – touching on, for example, cargo insurance – “that’s something that’s sorely needed.”

The programs offered are a mix of the practical and academic. A driver can earn an associate’s of arts with an emphasis in humanities, or an associate’s of applied science, studying management with an emphasis in transportation. Several certificate programs – from e-commerce to homeland security – will also be available.

Haston said that some of the drivers, who average about 30 years old, have limited computer experience, and Weakly said he thinks a little less than half of OOIDA’s more than 140,000 members have computers. “They’ll have to work rearends off,” Haston said, “but the instructor will understand that because of their unqiue job, they will have to work with them on some things.”

Weakly said that drivers “unfortunately have a lot of times with very little to do except twiddle their thumbs,” so some homework might fit in nicely. “It’ll be interesting to watch. It’s something that’s certainly a valuable thing, but I’m just not sure how valuable until we see it in action.”


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