HOUSTON (KTRK) -- There's a ship simulator at San Jacinto College so realistic that people have gotten seasick while operating it.
"We can simulate any ship or any boat, flat calm seas, 30-foot seas, no wind, hurricane-wind, rain, wind, snow and darkness," said Captain Mitch Schacter, the Maritime Director of San Jacinto College.
The simulator is essentially a $1.3 million video game that has become a standout component of San Jacinto Community College's maritime program, which has swelled in size.
"We've already seen our programs grow, in terms of doubling from the time we opened with the first program in May 2010 until fall of 2014," said Dr. Sarah Janes, the vice president for continuing studies at San Jacinto College.
"About 60 percent of our current maritime workforce is over 50 years old," said Schacter. "So we are getting kind of gray. Big picture in the next 10 or 15 years, we have to replace more than half our workforce and to do that we have to get more people involved quickly."
That influx of job-seekers is why the college is planning on relocating.
Officials are breaking ground Friday on a sleek, new maritime facility that will be 45,000 square feet, to be anchored along the bay Port Marine Terminal in Shoreacres. The opening is slated for January 2016.
The program started offering associates degrees last year, but many of their students are already mariners looking for license upgrades.
"The Coast Guard implements different rules and regulations which is required from the mariner to follow," said Richard Miller, a student of San Jacinto College and current mariner. "If you want to upgrade, then you have to go to school to upgrade for that position and that's what I'm doing here."
And that's the desired destination -- a great paying job without the 4 year university commitment.
San Jacinto's enrollment numbers have been growing steadily over the past decade just like the rest of enrollment at community colleges across the state, now at over 700,000 students.
"As time has gone on, we've seen a lot of folks who want to come in and just get a two-year degree, an associate's degree," said Janes.
Officials say it all comes back to time and money. San Jacinto's tuition per year is about $6,500, compared to UT or Texas A&M, which can be upwards of $20,000 per year for Texas residents.
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