Maryland Rural Grant Funds School’s Simulators for CDL Tests
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A $236,000 rural economic development grant is helping a western Maryland public two-year community college expand its commercial driver license truck driving training program.
Two simulators were purchased through a grant from the Rural Maryland Economic Development Fund that was awarded by the state last December to McHenry-based Garrett College, which was recently approved as a state testing site for Classes A and Class B licenses.
The school offers Class A and Class B CDL training programs through its Mountaintop Truck Driving Institute in Grantsville. Its skills-oriented program offers a professional truck driving curriculum that enables graduates to obtain jobs as entry-level drivers in over-the-road or local vehicles. The curriculum consists of classroom teaching, driving range skills and over-the-road instruction as fundamentals for operating trucks and tractor-trailers.
“The simulators allow us to teach proper shifting, double-clutching and situational awareness before putting students on the road,” Donna Bittinger, Garrett College’s program associate for adult basic education and workforce development coordinator, said Nov. 14. “This technology makes for a safer student.”
Mountaintop Truck Driving Institute in Grantsville, Md. (Garrett College)
According to the state funding award, during fiscal 2022 the school achieved a 100% pass rate for students completing Class B training and receiving their CDLs as well as a 97% success rate for Class A students.
Each year, the school trains about 40 Class A students in the nearly eight-week course and 15 Class B students seeking dump truck licensing through six full-day class sessions. The college also offers a CDL refresher course for a Class B license and the ability to drive a manual-shift truck to earn a Class A license.
Introducing the new simulation technology into the CDL program gives students a variety of computerized driving experiences to master before they actually get behind the wheel and drive on the road. The technology can simulate challenging road situations such as snow, oncoming vehicles and deer crossing the highway.
“It’s a great teaching tool,” said Richard Kyer, one of three truck driving instructors at Garrett College’s Mountaintop Truck Driving Institute.
Also, the simulation technology will enable the community college to expand CDL training opportunities to younger students, through dual enrollment with Garrett County Public Schools.
The simulators also offer financial savings for the school.
“This is the perfect way for a new student with no truck driving knowledge to figure it all out without actually burning up a clutch,” Bittinger said. “These trucks are not cheap to fix.”
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Bittinger said there is a high demand for truck drivers, whose starting pay ranges between $21 and $25 per hour.
“A lot of local employers are looking for Class B operators, especially this time of year when a lot of companies want people to plow snow,” she said. “Some of our bigger employers — like Dot Foods, Schneider, Werner and W.S. Thomas — come here to recruit Class A truck drivers.”
Most CDL students at Garrett College qualify for financial assistance. Bittinger said the Western Maryland Consortium and West Virginia Workforce play a key funding role in the county’s workforce programs. Garrett College, Allegany College of Maryland, WVU Potomac State and Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College formed a partnership in September to facilitate sharing in specialized areas of study.
Being an authorized testing site by the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration enables Garrett College students to test for their CDL exams where they are trained.
“It’s also made testing options more flexible for our students,” Bittinger said.
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