Southwestern Community College’s CDL (commercial driver’s license) program came to a halt in early 2022 after changes were made federally to the instructional training requirements.
However, with the announcement of a new CDL grant for Iowa’s community colleges, SWCC’s Vice President of Economic Development Wayne Pantini is hoping to create a bigger and better program in the coming years.
“It’s been an exciting several weeks since then that we were able to say, OK, we have an opportunity right in front of us, how do we leverage that,” Pantini said. “There’s a lot of demand out there that we can’t currently serve because we don’t have the infrastructure and equipment to do so.”
The new grant focuses on creating or providing CDL infrastructure. According to Future Ready Iowa, the grant “will provided up to $5 million to assist community colleges with building, purchasing or remodeling CDL training infrastructure.”
Governor Kim Reynolds announced this grant due to the projected need of “more than 10,000 commercial drivers annually between 2020 and 2030.”
Officially announced on Aug. 10, Pantini was already head first into researching other community college’s CDL programs with SWCC’s Director of Continuing Education and Business Training Kim Oaks.
“We went to Northwest Community College for a discovery mission over a couple of days to meet with them on their CDL program,” Pantini said. “Ironically, on August 10, second day we were there, Gov. Kim Reynolds made an announcement of a $5 million CDL grant.”
This grant can be awarded to a number of community colleges in Iowa, with a maximum award of $1 million per college.
“Because of the cost in the construction of a new facility or purchasing equipment, it’s going to be a pretty hefty ask in terms of the grant application for us,” Pantini said. “[The max] is probably more than we are needing to get us the basics to serve our needs in our area, so we’ve identified a couple of different options we are taking a look at as part of that grant application.”
Pantini explained the grant money would go toward both a building expansion and a concrete pad for a range course for driving.
If awarded, the grant requires a 50% monetary match for the project. Pantini explained that, due to previous investments and funds, the college would not need to ask for a loan to cover this.
“We won’t need to go out and borrow money, we have those dollars that will be eligible to use and that we have already that we’ve accrued over the years,” Pantini said. “We’re excited about that, and obviously coming up with 50% of that cash match for the grant, we don’t always have the ability to do that and leverage those dollars, but we do have that, which is good.”
The deadline for the grant is 2 p.m. Sept. 25. Once the winners of the grant have been announced, they will have a short time-frame to decide if they will accept it.
With the proposed program, Pantini projects about 50 students on an annual basis at first, likely increasing to 75 in the following years. The program would cost $2,000 per person.
“That includes the associated fee for the ELDT (entry-level driver training) online theory course that will be a part of the course is a section they will fulfill in online training,” Pantini said. “Once they achieve that, they will be eligible to do the behind the wheel range on a public road competency testing.”
Pantini projected the construction would be completed by spring 2025, with the programming starting the following fall. If awarded the grant, the SWCC Board of Trustees will likely have to call a special meeting in order to approve the acceptance of the grant.