College is expanding programs to meet demand
Troy Simpson welcomed 54 freshmen in August to the machining program at Danville Community College. That enrollment is more than twice the capacity for freshmen in last year’s program. “We still had students that couldn’t get in and are waitlisted,” says Simpson, associate professor of precision machining technology.
The demand for program graduates continues to increase and until this school year the college had to turn away students each year because of limited capacity. “There are more jobs than students to fill the jobs,” Simpson says. “We have employers calling every week looking for people with these skills.”
Earlier this year the General Assembly awarded the school $3.7 million for expansion of the machining and welding programs. The money is being used to renovate a 20,000-square-foot building that now houses several programs. Plus, it will cover construction of a new, 7,500-square-foot building behind the current facility. The expansion also includes an additional $2.5 million in new technology and equipment that’s not part of the state award.
The machining program was able to increase capacity this semester because it moved into temporary renovated space, hired two additional instructors and added over $1 million in new equipment.
The expansion initiative was started by recently retired Danville Community College President Carlyle Ramsey. He wanted to double the number of students enrolled in the machining and welding programs. Before this school year, the school’s maximum capacity for the machining program was 52, including 26 freshman and 26 sophomores. The expansion will increase the program’s total capacity to 104.
The first phase of the expansion project is underway with the machining department relocating to temporary space until the renovations are complete. Three programs — welding, graphics and building trades — will move to the new building once that is completed. The full expansion will take approximately two years. “We will be the largest machining program in the community college system in Virginia,” Simpson says.
The college already has more than 120 students in the pipeline for the program. About 20 are high school students from Pittsylvania County who have earned college credits through dual enrollment. “That is unheard of,” Simpson says of the high number of students that want to enroll.
The earning potential for graduates of the program is high. Starting pay averages between $17 and $24 per hour, he adds. “There is a huge demand for people with highly technical skills. The jobs are there so the workforce has to be there.”
Simpson believes the expansion demonstrates that Southern Virginia understands the needs of the manufacturers. “This is a huge economic development opportunity,” he says. “We are positioning ourselves to provide the skills that future manufacturing companies are looking for.”