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Study would assess Panhandle education needs

November 16, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - When workers in the Eastern Panhandle want to get specialized training in computer information technology or other fields, they complain that they have to go to West Virginia University in Morgantown or colleges in Washington, D.C., to get what they need, state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said Tuesday.

"They say there are no programs for them," Unger said.

To determine how the Eastern Panhandle can better fill the higher education needs of its residents, Unger, Del. Dale Manuel, D-Jefferson, and Shepherd College President David L. Dunlop are asking Gov. Cecil Underwood for a higher education needs study for the area.

The study would look at a number of areas, including what type of work force training is needed in the area and what types of jobs are likely to come to the area, said Unger.

Underwood officials could not be reached for comment.

Although Dunlop said he supports the request for the study, he believes Shepherd College should take the lead role in developing new work force development programs for the Panhandle.

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Shepherd could work out agreements that would enable different universities to come to the area to offer specialized training, said Dunlop. The agreements could call for the various schools to offer courses for up to three to five years, he said. If it is determined that the coursework would be needed on a permanent basis in the Panhandle, Shepherd could develop its own program, Dunlop said.

"We would like to be the broker of higher education in the Eastern Panhandle," Dunlop said between Legislative interim meetings at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center Tuesday afternoon.

Berkeley County developer Bruce Van Wyk said expanded workforce training has been a hot topic among business leaders in Berkeley County for about three months.

While Van Wyk said he is not critical of the job growth that has occurred in the Panhandle, he said most of the wages for the new jobs are $10 an hour and under.

"We need to focus now on increasing wages," Van Wyk said.

Unger said expanded work force training programs are vital to increasing wages. If Berkeley County gets lucky and lures a high-paying firm to the region, like another jet manufacturer, one of the company's first priorities will be to determine what kind of work force development is available locally to train the kind of workers it needs, Unger said.

Shepherd College offers some work force development training through its Community and Technical College on Shepherd's campus.

The community college offers courses in commercial printing and computer instruction and goes off campus to provide training at companies like General Motors in Martinsburg, Dunlop said.

Some people do not realize the Community and Technical College exists, and consideration has been given to moving the college to Martinsburg to "give it some identity," Dunlop said.

Last spring, lawmakers and Shepherd College officials discussed the possibility of opening a branch of the local college in Martinsburg. Many of the approximately 4,000 students who attend Shepherd are from Berkeley County, and it would be more convenient for them to have a local branch than to commute to Shepherdstown, state and Shepherd officials said.

Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson suggested that the Blue Ridge Outlet would be an excellent location for a school.

Dunlop said the college has been shopping for a Martinsburg site for the community college. "If anyone has a large space and it's vacant, we would be willing to look," Dunlop said.

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