Not all jobs in Lawrence require a college degree, but many of them require more than a high school education.
For many years, the best way to get those specialized classes was to drive the 32 miles from Lawrence to Johnson County Community College in Overland Park.
Starting Jan. 30, the trip could be a lot shorter, with JCCC classes being offered in Lawrence for the first time.
"We worked with Lawrence manufacturers, and they're asking for people with these kinds of skills," said JCCC Assistant Dean Loralee Stevens. "Basic math skills, basic writing skills; we're really listening to the needs of the business community in Lawrence."
In a partnership with the Lawrence school district, classes such as business math, introduction to writing, job search skills and industrial safety will be offered from classrooms at the building where the Lawrence Virtual School is housed.
"Because it's a new location and we're getting all the equipment ordered and installed, we decided it would be best to start our semester there two weeks after our regular semester," Stevens said.
Lawrence public schools Superintendent Randy Weseman said that JCCC will pay for utilities and custodial services to use the rooms in the facility.
More classes are on tap for next fall, Stevens said. They will integrate closely with the Lawrence public schools curriculum.
Lawrence school district leaders have praised the partnership and agreement with JCCC. The school board has approved two health career-related courses to start in fall 2008 at the former Centennial School, 2145 La.
"It will really allow us to open up the educational opportunities for all the residents and citizens of Lawrence and Douglas County," said Patrick Kelly, a curriculum specialist in fine arts and career and technical education.
Stevens said about 7 percent of JCCC's enrollment comes from Douglas County, so leaders are expecting a high level of enrollment.
"We've received a lot of calls from Lawrence residents when we first announced we'd be coming to Lawrence," Stevens said.
The Lawrence-Douglas County Chamber of Commerce has been instrumental in bringing this career and technical skill-related training to Lawrence. Beth Johnson, a chamber vice president, said the only way for employees of Lawrence-based companies to get this kind of training was to drive to Kansas City.
"One of the reasons that the technical education task force was formed was because we heard from businesses that they needed technical education that was close and affordable for their employees," Johnson said.
Johnson said JCCC and Douglas County chose to start with courses that fit the needs of employers as well as the kinds of courses the college has experience offering. The long-term goal is to increase the number of courses offered to the point where students can earn a certificate for their studies.
"Kansas City and Wichita have programs like that," Johnson said. "If you take so many classes, then you're a certified worker, or perhaps a certified manufacturing technician. We're still trying to figure out what that program will look like.
Tuition for the new classes is $78 per credit for Douglas County residents.