Florida Governor Ron DeSantis visited South Florida State College’s (SFSC) Hardee Campus in Bowling Green today to present Dr. Thomas C. Leitzel, SFSC president, with a check in the amount of $415,000 toward the College’s Commercial Vehicle Driver Program. Those funds will be used to purchase state-of-the art driving simulators to train students.
Gov. DeSantis said he plans to make Florida the No. 1 state for workforce education in the nation by 2030, as well as respond to the shortage of truck drivers and nurses in Florida and nationwide. To that end, he awarded $2.3 million to six educational institutions across the state to support Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and Nursing programs. Besides SFSC’s CDL program, the State College of Florida – Manatee/Sarasota received $930,000, Manatee Technical College received $550,000, and North Florida Technical College received $100,000. Nursing programs at Florida Gateway College will receive $135,000 and the College of the Florida Keys will receive $150,000.
“The American Trucking Association estimates that we’re going to need, nationwide, 1.1 million new truck drivers over the next 10 years,” Gov. DeSantis said. “Right now, there’s a national shortage. Florida has been helping alleviate that. Companies are offering $15,000 signing bonuses to encourage people to sign up and drive trucks. This is a moment when we can give people more opportunity and see them do well with little or no debt while also filling a need.”
“We’re thrilled to have Gov. DeSantis and Senior Chancellor Henry Mack from the Florida College System here today,” said Dr. Thomas C. Leitzel, SFSC president. “It is great that workforce matters in this state and we have a governor who rewards those efforts. The Florida College System can quickly respond to economic matters and Gov. DeSantis recognized this. He boldly went after funds in the midst of the pandemic and said, ‘We need to put people to work in the state of Florida.’ Therefore, the rapid credential program was established. Henry knows it well, because funds came to SFSC and we’re putting students to work. At SFSC, we say jobs is our favorite four-letter word. We enable our learners to get a job, keep a job, or be promoted in a current job. And that’s the bottom line and the governor recognizes it. On behalf of all current students and all future students at SFSC, we are so grateful for the governor’s support.”
In 2020, SFSC was awarded funding through Gov. DeSantis’ Emergency Education Relief (GEER) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, to bolster Rapid Credentialing which assists in educating and training residents who are unemployed, underemployed, or furloughed. Funds were dispersed to institutions, such as SFSC, to enroll and complete students in short-term, in-demand workforce/career and technical education (CTE) credentialing and certificate programs. At that time, SFSC was awarded $292,096 with an additional 25% through matching funds for a total of $365,120.
Because SFSC’s Commercial Vehicle Driver Program led the way with strong performance on its grant evaluation, Henry Mack, senior chancellor of the Florida Department of Education overseeing the Division of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, suggested the College move forward on its plans to purchase truck driver simulators as teaching tools for its program.
“We’re seeing evidence that CTE graduates are earning the same median lifetime earning as baccalaureate degree earners,” Mack said. “A case in point are the truck driver graduates of SFSC. Since day one, Governor, you’ve prioritized CTE. So, on behalf all of the faculty, the students, the counselors, the staff, and everyone at the Department of Education, thank you for prioritizing workforce education and helping to elevate it so that we can meet the economic demands of the state of Florida.”
“We’re excited about these simulators because they will give our students an enhanced training experience,” said Tina Gottus, SFSC’s director of corporate and community education. “The simulators will provide students with broader training opportunities. Students will learn how to drive in conditions, such as darkness and high winds, as well as those we don’t experience in Florida – the mountains and snow. On the simulator, they can have a tire blowout and learn how to recover from that incident. When things go wrong on the road, students will better know how to recover. Ultimately, they will become better drivers. When they make it safer on our roads, we all benefit.”
SFSC’s Commercial Vehicle Driver Program is a four-week course that offers in-depth, hands-on truck driving experience and provides connections with future employers. Joe Burke, who was a truck driver for 36 years, is the program’s coordinator and instructor. The College accepts approximately 260 students into the program annually. Currently, 25 students are on its waiting list for acceptance into the program.