Budget Cuts Threaten Marine Tech Program

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Cape Fear Community College is sending out an S.O.S. to state lawmakers for the future of its Marine Technology program, one of the college’s oldest and most successful two-year job-training programs.

In January 2009, Cape Fear Community College was informed by the N.C. State Board of Community Colleges that state funding for CFCC’s Marine Technology ship operations may be eliminated, effective fiscal year 2009 - 2010. The $571,000 in proposed cuts would eliminate funding for maintenance, fuel, repairs, and supplies on the college’s 85 ft ocean-going research vessel, the R/V Dan Moore.

Additionally, these funds support the costs associated with the 53 ft R/V Martech and the fleet of small boats. Also paid from this line item are five faculty salaries, including: the captain, chief engineer, assistant engineer, ship’s scientific technician, and the dock superintendent.
 
“Now is not the time to be cutting any technical education programs, especially those that are vibrant and growing,” said CFCC President Eric McKeithan. Currently, the program is full, with 100 students enrolled in the program. Last fall, the department offered and filled all available seats in all courses and cruises.
 
“Community college programs like Marine Technology are part of the solution for our local citizens who need jobs and employers who need trained workers,” McKeithan added.
 
CFCC’s Marine Technology program is the only one of its kind on the east coast. According to college officials, this proposed cut would end the Marine Technology program in its current form. CFCC Marine Technology program director Jason Rogers stated that if the cuts become a reality, CFCC would no longer be able to offer shipboard training, which makes graduates attractive to employers all over the state and the country.
 
“Our shipboard training is what makes us unique. This hands-on, workforce training is the core of our program,” Rogers said.
 
In fact, graduates from four-year universities enroll in CFCC's two-year Marine Technology program to get the hands-on experience needed to get a job.
 
Audra Burchfield, who graduated from UNCW's Marine Biology program last May, enrolled at CFCC last fall for just that reason.
 
"When I left UNCW and went out looking for a job, the employers I talked to wanted experience before they would hire me. I came to CFCC because their program offers the hands-on training I'm looking for. It will open a lot of doors for me," Audra said.
 
For Audra, the at-sea experience was invaluable and couldn't have been simulated in the classroom. Before going to CFCC, the longest she had been on a boat was 2 hours. When she went out on her first marine technology cruise, it was first time she had been out of sight of land.  During the two years at CFCC, students typically spend a total of 32 days at sea.
 
Audra needed to know how she would react to being at sea, before she got a job.
 
"I'm a hands-on leaner, so to be on a ship and apply what I've learned in the classroom really solidifies what I've already learned," Audra said.
 
When at sea or on smaller boats, students learn a host of critical skills, including: hydrographic survey techniques, fisheries data collection, biological sampling and identification, wet chemistry and water analysis, boat handling and seamanship, navigation, oceanographic instrumentation and calibration, and data processing.

“Most importantly, students learn how to work safely at sea. Because of this training, offshore employers who hire our students report having almost zero attrition. After two years on our vessels, students understand the commitment that is required to work at sea,” Rogers said.

This type of training makes CFCC’s graduates very attractive to employers.  CFCC graduates have the skills that are in demand today and will increasingly be in demand as the state and nation are concerned about stressed fish stocks, global climate changes, energy exploration and recovery and water quality.
 
In addition to training students, CFCC's research vessels and personnel provide essential support in various marine science projects with UNCW, the Coastal Ocean Research and Monitoring Program, East Carolina University, and the Underwater Archeology Branch of the N.C. Dept of Cultural Resources. Most notably, CFCC's research vessel and crew helped recover artifacts from the Queen Anne's Revenge Shipwreck project off the coast of Beaufort, NC.
 
Over the past month, students, graduates, faculty, staff and employers have been working to educate state lawmakers about the value of the program and why it needs to be spared from cuts. The college also exploring other sources of funding to keep the program afloat.

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