Pump the brakes: Sierra College temporarily pausing its automotive technology program
The automotive technology program at Sierra College is “a mess.”
That’s what Sierra College President William Duncan told people at a board of trustees meeting Tuesday night, according to ABC News10.
The college consequently decided to temporarily suspend the program.
Dean of Business and Technology Division Amy Schulz told The Union the decision came in order to give administrators the opportunity to update the program to the economy’s 21st century needs.
“It’s not discontinuing the program, it’s suspending the program in its current form,” said Schulz, meaning students who are within one year of finishing their certificate can do so. However, the college won’t be accepting new students, thereby pausing the program.
To help some students caught in a bind, Sierra College is allowing students to transfer to automotive technology programs at American River College, Yuba College or Cosumnes River College.
There are 130 students studying automotive technology at the combined four Sierra College campuses. Over the past few years, about 13 to 17 students graduated from the program each year, said Schulz.
Vice President of Instruction Rebecca Bocchicchio said automotive technology classes are only offered on the Rocklin campus, but because a Sierra College student is accepted at all four campuses, the decision affects Nevada County Campus students, too.
She estimates five Nevada County Campus students to be one year from completing the degree for a program that has eight part-time faculty members.
In 2016, the state began providing $246 million of annual funding for the Strong Workforce Program to bolster career technical education at community colleges.
But with the carrot comes the stick, and administrators said the automotive technology program was not meeting northern region standards set by the state.
“We have to demonstrate that there’s a labor market need, and that students graduating (can) earn a living wage,” said Bocchicchio.
High salaries to graduate and earn about $15 an hour in the automotive technician sector aren’t available, and there is too much supply, said Schulz and Bocchicchio.
Part-time automotive technology faculty members Jennifer Andronas and Don Moore disagree on the numbers.
“Their research is not accurate or they are not talking to the right people or they are not asking the right questions,” said Andronas, who graduated from Sierra College automotive program in 1999 and also teaches full-time at American River College, where currently five other full-time automotive technology instructors graduated from Sierra College’s program.
Moore, also a full-time instructor at Hayward’s Chabot College, agrees.
“They are using flawed data, flawed information,” he said, noting administrators are basing research off a minimum wage for a two-parent household, which is not often applicable for Sierra College students. He added their research is based on an hourly wage, not a flat rate, which is more common for the industry.
Administrators like Bocchicchio said the program’s graduates also aren’t prepared to meet today’s job standards in the field because the program has lagged behind.
“It had been sometime since the curriculum was updated, and there was a concern that equipment was not updated,” she said.
Andronas said there’s a legitimate reason for the lag: the school’s lack of investment in the program.
“If the (enrollment) numbers are low, then there’s a reason the numbers are low,” she said, noting that administrators internally killed the program, depriving it of money and full-time staff members.
Alex Wong, the last full-time instructor for the program at Sierra College agreed, saying he partly left due to “lack of trust” with the administration.
In 2012, Wong said he established a vitality plan that administrators approved, but did not financially support, leaving it unimplemented.
Bocchicchio disagreed, saying the program was not deprived of funds and that since the last vitality plan was made, it had shared a Perkins grant, including over $240,000, with other career technical education classes. In fact, she said, some years automotive technology got the most money of any program.
“No department gets everything it asks for,” she said, “but the department got what it needed.”
In general, Bocchicchio and Schulz said the process for placing the program on pause was “very thorough,” and included a diverse set of faculty members.
Bocchicchio wants the program to be in the right direction before a full-time instructor is hired.
Moore agrees, but wished that a full-time faculty member, in addition to better equipment, a fresh paint job and a slightly updated curriculum came sooner. Tuesday, he said, was the first time he heard the word “revitalize” associated with the program, rather than “hibernate.”
The college will be surveying employers, talking with the information technology and mechatronics programs at the college and converse with nearby college’s automotive programs to help restructure their own, said Schulz. The school hopes to incorporate autonomous vehicle, alternative fuel and electric car information into the curriculum.
Moore noted the program’s problems didn’t begin with Schulz, as she stepped in after two interim deans in 2016.
“Amy has inherited a problem. It’s not totally her issue,” he said.
Still, both Moore and Andronas like the program and are concerned it will disappear.
“My heart belongs to Sierra College,” said Andronas. “If they shut the program down, it will never reopen.”
Administrators plan to open the revitalized automotive technology program in the fall of 2020.
“Our intention is that we will have new curriculum with emerging technologies,” said Bocchicchio.
Instructors like Andronas and Moore are nervous about the future, but want to take the administration’s words in good faith.
“I sure hope, from the bottom of my heart, (revitalization is) what they intend to do,” said Moore.
Contact Sam Corey at 530-0477-4219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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