Good news, bad news scenario at Elizabethton Technology Center

By Bob Robinson
Star Staff

   Unemployment and the slumping economy in the Tri-Cities area is having a positive affect on the Tennessee Technology Center in Elizabethton, according to its director, Jerry Patton.
   A lack of adequate state funding, however, is having a negative affect on those desiring to be trained in another line of work.
   "There's a long waiting list of students desiring to enroll but we don't have sufficient funds to hire additional instructors and staff. Many are displaced workers in the area."
   For the first time in the two years he has been at the Center, Patton has had to lay off five of his staff due to state funding cutbacks.
   The Center's main campus is located at 426 Highway 91, near the Elizabethton Municipal Airport. The Herman Robinson Campus is located at 1500 Arney Street in Elizabethton.
   The Center offers courses in automotive technology; business systems; computer operations; diesel mechanics/heavy equipment repair; electricity/electronics; heating, ventilation, air conditioning, refrigeration/sheet metal; millwright skills; welding and practical nursing.
   The Licensed Practical Nurse program is the most popular, apparently due to the nursing shortage in the area.
   To offset state funding cutbacks, area hospitals have pitched in to help Patton pay some nursing program costs. "For every 12 students enrolled in the nursing program, one clinical aide is required," he said.
   The length of each course ranges from 12 to 18 months, depending upon the curriculum. Students may attend either part-time or full-time. Some may also receive dual credit, that is high school students may also receive college credit.
   Satellite campuses are located in:
   * Mountain City -- offering courses in nursing and business systems technology;
   * Johnson City -- courses in business system technology and computer learning lab are scheduled to begin this month at the Keystone Community Center. This is a joint venture with East Tennessee State University;
   * Johnson City -- Science Hill High School nursing courses were set to go but halted due to state budget cutbacks;
   * Kingsport -- nursing course has been approved but is one year away from being offered. This is a joint venture with Northeast State Technical Community College.
   * Bristol courses are planned for the near future.
   Today, the Elizabethton Center has 25 instructors and support staff with an annual payroll of $1 million.
   The Elizabethton Center serves students living in Carter, Johnson, Washington, Sullivan and Unicoi counties, primarily.
   There are 400 students enrolled. Student ages range from 18 to 50, with the average age being 28.
   Student fees are reasonable, ranging from $82 tuition for one -- 30 hours of course work, to $275 tuition for full-time students, those taking 324 hours or more of course work. There is an additional $31 technical fee.
   After graduation, the Elizabethton Center is placing more than 90 percent of all students in jobs, according to Patton.
   There are plenty of jobs out there for those with technical skills, Patton said.
   "There is a pattern we have seen over and over. Students graduate from high school and work aimlessly until they find themselves unemployed.
   "Next, they enroll at the Tennessee Technology Center for 12 to 18 months to prepare for a new line of work, one that has true meaning to them, personally," Patton said.
   Sullivan County Commissioners provide scholarships to any high school student who desires to attend Northeast State.
   "I would like to see something like that offered in other counties in this area. Education is the number one asset in any community."
   In 1963, the Tennessee General Assembly created the State Area Vocational-Technical Schools and in 1994 renamed them Tennessee Technology Centers.
   There are 26 Tennessee Technology Centers, governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents, which also oversees colleges and universities outside of the University of Tennessee System.
   Patton hopes the Tennessee Technology Center in Elizabethton will continue to prepare students for jobs today and tomorrow, provided adequate funds are available from the Tennessee General Assembly and private sources.
   More information about the Tennessee Technology Center at Elizabethton is available by calling 423-543-0070, or checking their Web site at www.elizabethton.tec.tn.us.