Degrees for drivers

Degrees for drivers

Continuing education for full-time workers, no matter the industry, is always difficult to manage at best. For truck drivers, it’s even harder since they are constantly on the road and typically hundreds of miles away from a classroom on any given work day. That’s about to change with the introduction of “In-Cab University”

Continuing education for full-time workers, no matter the industry, is always difficult to manage at best. For truck drivers, it’s even harder since they are constantly on the road and typically hundreds of miles away from a classroom on any given work day.

That’s about to change with the introduction of “In-Cab University,” a program developed by Chattanooga, TN-based TransMarkets Technologies, a trucking software and systems provider.

The company is rolling out a completely Internet-based curriculum in conjunction with Chattanooga State Technical Community College starting Aug. 15 so drivers may obtain an accredited college degree or certificate—without pulling off the road.

“It started off almost as an afterthought,” Craig Fuller, CEO of TransMarkets, explained to FleetOwner. “We were surveying drivers to see what kinds of benefits or services might improve retention efforts. The response to continuing education opportunities really surprised us.”

TransMarkets polled 226 drivers at Covenant Transportation in Chattanooga about the “college degree while you drive” idea and found 174 (77%) would be interested in such a program, with 78% of those responding positively to the concept and willing to sign up that day for courses. The carrier ended up beta-testing the idea and found the drivers in its demonstration group reacted positively to the program.

“The key to In-Cab University is that it allows the driver to use their idle time—at the dock, at truck stops, or at maintenance facilities—to attend classes via the Internet, without having to go to a central classroom location,” Fuller said. “It’s flexible, too. Drivers are allowed to begin a course any time, not just at the start of a term, as long as they complete the class within 16 weeks. This opens up a new way for them to pass what used to be unproductive downtime for them and their fleets.”

For carriers, the ability for drivers to get college degrees while they work full time also opens up new recruiting and retention possibilities, Fuller stressed. “Look at the military: out of the 1.3 million that enlist in the U.S. Army, almost 56% are enrolled in the G.I. Bill to gain funding for college,” he said. “Now, the military is not a cakewalk, but the opportunity to earn money for college attracts a lot of recruits. The same scenario could work for trucking.”

Fuller said carriers on average spend over $5,000 to recruit drivers, which is money lost if they leave the company. With In-Cab’s classes costing roughly $225 per credit hour and a year’s worth of full-course load study totaling $2,000, it could be a far cheaper method of keeping a driver on board than having to replace him or her.

Fuller is the son of Max Fuller, co-chairman of U.S. Xpress Enterprises, and has been involved in trucking for most of his life. However, he’s quick to point out the carrier isn’t funding or sponsoring In-Cab in any way.

The attractiveness of the idea also makes sense to other trucking experts, some of whom are trying to launch driver degree programs of their own.

“One of the most costly things you can do as a truck driver is plan to be somewhere at a specific time and place without hauling freight and spending several days off the road,” said Tim Brady, a former owner-operator and contributing editor to DriversMag.com, a FleetOwner online publication. “Learning while driving—taking advantage of the downtime on the road—keeps the driver in the cash flow stream. They are not having to sacrifice current pay and future revenue to take college classes.”

Brady himself is hoping to roll out his own “Trucker University” program in conjunction with Dyersburg State Community College in early 2007.

“The whole point is delivering learning opportunities to the driver where they are most comfortable—in their truck cab,” Brady told FleetOwner. “A 30- or 40-year old driver might be intimidated going into a college classroom with much younger students. This way he or she is earning college credits in their truck, without that pressure.”

Full four-year degree programs are still in the works for both of these continuing education efforts. TransMarket’s Fuller said that In-Cab offers six two-year associate degrees in the arts and sciences and six certificate programs right now, with an option to get a high-school general equivalency diploma (GED) to be added in spring 2007.

“The whole point of our program is to help carriers create career paths for their drivers and for independents to do the same for themselves,” said Fuller. “The traditional career path for a driver has always been limited, but getting a college degree could open new doors to them—maybe even within their own companies in dispatch, accounting, billing, you name it.

“The buzz word here is ‘quality of life’ and we think the opportunity to obtain a college degree while a driver works full time is going to improve that for them,” he adds

To comment on this article, write to Sean Kilcarr at skilcarr@fleetowner.com

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