First Day of School: When a Collision Program Expands

As autobody training programs disappear across the country, an Arizona tech school tripled its same-course enrollment. Its instructor shares his perspective on what’s working.

AUTOBODY SOURCE STAFF

This April, we highlighted one of several bodyshops promoting enrollment in Honolulu Community College’s Auto Body Repair and Painting program, in our Summer 2021 issue. The college ultimately ended the program permanently during its Fall enrollment drive on July 2. To understand the enrollment crisis’ impact on schools around the country, we spoke with Carlos Lopez, Collision Repair Instructor at East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa, Arizona, on July 27, six days before the start of the 2021 Fall semester.

School starts next week. What has enrollment been like?

Carlos: It’s always a hurdle to get fresh, young blood out in the shop on the repair floor. We’ve had huge enrollment this year. I got blindsided by the number of students who are enrolled. I currently have 45 high-schoolers in one session and 20 adults in another session. I think it all comes from the students. The students are the biggest advocates for the program, and the most up-to-date delivery of the curriculum that you’re giving, showing them the trends and application processes that collision centers and collision facilities are wanting. Students are pretty tech driven today, so incorporating that has been the biggest advocate for us and for the program.

Of course, you have to be careful what you wish for. This is going to be a hurdle for us because we have 45 students, but do I have the refinishing equipment, the guns, consumables, the budgets to teach them? That’s one of the biggest things that we always ask industry to assist with. We obviously have to be held accountable as instructors to keep those relationships and sometimes it can be tough.

This will be my third year, and hopefully this year we won’t encounter any problems. Delivering the curriculum needed for the shop is one thing, but what folks don’t always fully consider is the job we have as teachers, in the sense that we have to have a certain percentage of students with a passing grade, plus our own training as teachers. We have all these other things, and sometimes they could get in the way of trying to instruct the art of this course. We have to keep a good balance.

Is yours an Associates course?

Carlos: No, it’s a certificate course, with I-CAR certification, ASE and TSA for state certification. Within the high school level, it’s a two-year program. I’m going to have a pretty strong percentage of non-traditional students, which is good. Two years ago, I only had 15 students, so it’s tripled. And the adults [quintupled]; I now have 20, and the course started with four.

Do you notice a difference in career longevity between high school and adult graduates?

Carlos: No. Of the 15 who graduated last year, five take seriously that this is a big-buck industry and they are focused. The others perform well, but they don’t realize the large scope of opportunities, from insurance adjusters to I-CAR to home appraisers to Enterprise Rent-A-Car careers, all of that. The adult students, they know. When I tell them they’re in the right spot to earn a lot of money, they get it. They’re not here to wing it. You have to put emphasis on that. I’m hoping the high school students start trending in that direction with that mentality, but we’re not quite there yet.

Do you steer your high school students in that direction?
Carlos:
Yes, we do job shadowing with local facilities, on-the-job training through a work-to-school program which involves one day in the class and four days paid working in the field. That way, they know it’s for real, it’s a head-start for them.

Are there commodities you are commonly in need of?

Carlos: Tape is something we’re always in need of. Imagine 45 students not knowing how to utilize the tape appropriately, dropping it and getting dirt on the edge, so there’s a lot of waste. Body filler and sandpaper are other things we go through. We try our best to manage consumption, but it’s always something on our purchase orders. That would be a great help for us.

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