After stalling enrollment, Florida college cuts automotive programs

The College of Central Florida has canceled its automotive service and collision certificate programs due to dropping enrollment and completion rates.

From 2010-11 to 2012-13, 312 students enrolled in the two programs -- Automotive Technology, and Automotive Collision Repair and Refinishing -- combined, with 34 students completing the programs over those three years.

Annual enrollment also dropped from 115 in the two programs in 2010-11 to 89 in 2011-12, officials said. In 2012-13, enrollment was 98. Of the 79 students who started the Automotive Technology course in 2010-11, six completed the two-year program.

That same year, there were 36 people enrolled in the two-year Automotive Collision Repair and Refinishing program and only six students completed the course.

Cheryl Fante, CF's associate vice president of careers and technology, said nearly 90 percent of the students would take a few semesters until they received the training they wanted, such as brakes or transmission service, and then hit the workforce without finishing the program. Students only have to pay for one semester at a time, not for all four semesters at once.

Fante also said rapidly advancing technology in the automotive field, especially in electronics and new auto-painting techniques, has been a tough to overcome. She said the college would have to invest thousands of dollars to upgrade equipment to keep pace with the ever-advancing technology.

On top of that, it is more difficult to obtain those newer vehicles equipped with the latest technology for students to get the needed repair experience.

Fante said managers from local dealerships have been meeting with college officials annually to discuss required skills of mechanics. Those officials have said in recent years that students need more training with the latest technology.

Garry Bradley, service manager at DeLuca Toyota, said all of the local students he hires come from Marion Technical Institute, a public high school launched by the local school district. DeLuca Toyota sponsors MTI student internships.

"I don't think I have hired anyone from the CF program," Bradley said.

MTI's Automotive Technology Academy specializes in high-tech training of computerized vehicles. MTI's website notes the program prepares students for employment in the highly technical automotive industry. "Representatives from local automotive companies share their experiences and connect students to employment opportunities," according to MTI's website. MTI only enrolls high school students.

MTI students receive hands-on training for one of two career paths: automotive technology or small gas engines technology. Automotive students train on state-of-the-art equipment and earn industry certifications, according to MTI, and Gold Seal certification scholarship opportunities.

Bradley noted automotive technology has changed tremendously in the past several years. Each year, new vehicles are becoming more electronic.

For example, most cars now have electric power steering; just a few years ago, hydraulics steered the way. Thus, newer steering systems mostly rely on an electric motors instead of a hydraulic pistons.

Fante said trying to keep the automotive programs viable with the latest equipment was daunting.

When considering the dropping enrollment and low completion rates, CF President Jim Henningsen and his staff decided to pull the plug on the programs, which will end next spring.

In what is called a "teach out," CF will offer the last remaining year of both programs but will not enroll any more students.

Fante said Marion County adults interested in automotive service and repair training must now travel to the Withlacoochee Technical Institute in Inverness.

"We have had to make some difficult decisions," CF spokeswoman Lois Brauckmuller said. "We must make these changes to meet the needs of the community."

Brauckmuller said CF will shift those financial resources to offer such courses as cybersecurity, as well as logistics and supply chain management programs, for example.

Matt Conyers, service manager for Pearson Nissan of Ocala, said he primarily hires new mechanics from Universal Technical Institute in Orlando.

He said CF students did not have the necessary Nissan certifications. He said UTI students have many Nissan computer certifications when they graduate.

"That means a faster start up," Conyers noted, adding that requires much less in-house training once they are hired.

Conyers said he was one of the dealership representatives that met with Henningsen and other college officials last year. He said the college had some good plans on beefing up its collision repair courses. He was surprised to hear the programs had been scraped.

Copyright 2014 - Ocala Star-Banner, Fla.

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