A hole in the ground adjacent to State Highway 121 in Allen represents the future of higher education here.
And Craig Johnson, a professor of construction management at Collin College, said this pit is also “our playground right now.”
For Johnson’s students — future construction managers and carpenters among them — the site of a future $139 million technical campus serves as a real-life laboratory.
When the finished building opens, it will be a key part of a $600 million bond package voters approved in May 2017 to nearly double Collin College’s campuses.
The community college’s aggressive expansion is meant to meet some hefty demands and pressures. The county, anchored by its school districts, is booming. Enrollment at the college has grown and is expected to keep growing. Some existing classrooms are nearing capacity. Campuses are facing a parking “nightmare.”
Current students say the new campuses are sorely needed. Caleb Davis, a business student at the Spring Creek campus in Plano, said the new campuses will help cut commute times for his friends in Wylie and Nevada.
“People won’t have to waste their gas coming all the way over here,” said Davis, 19, a Plano Senior High School graduate.
Some business leaders also welcome the growth of Collin College. They have stressed the need to focus on middle-skills jobs — those usually requiring more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree — and concerns about a shortage of qualified workers to fill them.
The technical campus that’s scheduled to open in 2020 will be a linchpin for the college. The 340,000-square-foot center will train future professionals in automotive service and repair, construction, health care, information technology and manufacturing.
“The students coming out of this building … are the students we’re looking for in the future,” said Charles Buescher, vice president of business development for McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., which is building the technical campus and also consulted on courses for the college’s construction track.
Buescher said he has an immediate need for craft labor — the carpenters and workers in the field building the projects.
About 80 percent of construction firms in the country reported having a difficult time filling hourly craft positions as the demand for construction grows, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. The Texas Workforce Commission projects that job opportunities in the construction industry will grow almost 28 percent from 2014 through 2024.
Collin College has already begun to offer a couple construction management classes at the Frisco campus this fall. Those offerings will expand in upcoming semesters, building toward an associate degree and two certificate programs.
Already, the two classes are about 90 percent full. Ten students have plan to pursue an associate of applied science, according to the college.
Johnson, the professor, said the construction industry is “crying out” for help.
“There’s such a huge labor shortage that they need all the people they can get,” he said.
Greg Snell, who signed up for the new construction management courses this semester, has worked in the construction industry for 30 years. He currently oversees the concrete Wylie plant for Lattimore Materials. The industry, he said, is aging.
“Everybody has gray in their beards. … And if it’s a young guy, he’s either a real go-getter or doesn’t last long,” said Snell, still wearing his work shirt with a stitched LMC logo before his Wednesday night class.
He said the construction management track is a gateway to help him move up in the industry and one day earn enough to get “that bass boat in the driveway.”
The technical campus will also be next to Allen ISD’s soon-to-open STEAM Center (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics).
Allen ISD pitched in $12 million for the technical campus project with the agreement that the school district can use classrooms and labs during school hours to expand dual-credit opportunities, which give students an opportunity to earn an associate’s degree while still in high school. School officials say in the last two years, the district’s dual-credit enrollment has increased about 25 percent.
Allen high school students, along with students in neighboring Frisco, McKinney and Plano school districts, also will have the opportunity to take technical classes and earn industry certifications before graduation.
“For a student to be successful in life doesn’t all look the same,” Allen ISD Superintendent Scott Niven said. “At one point in time, people thought a [four-year] college education was the only option. And now, it’s changing.”
The state has set lofty goals for future college enrollment. In 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott said he wanted at least 60 percent of the state’s 25-to-34-year-olds to earn a degree or post-secondary certificate by 2030. A progress report shows only about 42 percent of Texas residents in that age range had at least a certificate from a higher education institution as of 2016.
Collin College officials will have to help meet that goal while keeping pace with the growth in the county. The county’s population is projected to balloon more than threefold in the next few decades to more than 3 million residents. And enrollment at Collin College within the next 10 years is expected to surpass or near some large four-year institutions in the area, including the University of Texas at Dallas, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
This month, Collin College officials will break ground on a Wylie Campus. This fall, a new public safety center opened as part of partnership with the cities of Allen and McKinney to train law enforcement. Other projects include campuses in Celina and Farmersville and an information technology center at the Preston Ridge Campus in Frisco.
For almost two decades, the college’s board of trustees tried to find land to build a Wylie location, Collin College President Neil Matkin said. The 339,000-square-foot campus is set to open in 2020 across the street from the city’s municipal complex at the corner of Lakefield Drive and Country Club Road.
Matkin said the campus will be large enough to serve about 7,000 students, relieving overcrowding at the college’s Spring Creek Campus in Plano.
The Wylie site and other facilities can’t open soon enough, he said.
“We waited a little bit longer than we should have to build these campuses,” Matkin said.