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What Makes a School's Automotive Program Successful? by Rick Escalambre

Over the years, I have visited many automotive programs throughout California and across the country. One question that I am always asked is, what makes a successful program?

People make a program and people break a program.
Quality people (instructors & support staff) establish control of their program by being proactive. Are the instructors involved in campus activities and committees? Are they seen and heard by the administration? Are the instructors known by their local automotive industry? Do they get off their campus to attend industry sponsored workshops locally and around the country?

Successful programs require support.
I like to use the word “support” because it encompasses a number of items. First and foremost is administrative support. Does the administration allow the program to control its own destiny? Does the administration support your program when enrollment has hit a decline? Do they allow the program to be creative with how they teach and what they teach? Do they understand the role vocational programs play in the college’s Mission Statement? Do they understand and accept the fact that vocational programs, per student, are expensive to operate, but they are a vital part of the college and the success of the local business community? Administrators will come and go, so the program has to be positioned so the next administration is told to “leave them alone because they will do what is right”.

How do you maintain a successful program?
To maintain a successful program instructors and support staff must take a proactive approach and not a reactive approach. Successful programs are creative and they plan ahead. I was told many years ago, always have a Plan A, if Plan A doesn’t work move on to Plan B, if Plan B doesn’t work move on to Plan C. I can’t tell you the number of times we have reverted to Plan B and occasionally Plan C.

How do you find instructors to maintain these standards over a long period of time?
Grow your own! You start by identifying current and former students who could make excellent instructors. When you identify potential instructors from this group, tell them you would like to see them come back and teach for you someday. Usually their response is, really, you think so? You know, I have thought about teaching. When I retired from full-time teaching, one thing I was really proud of was the 18 former students who have become full or part-time instructors at Skyline College, other colleges, with a manufacturer, or somewhere else in the industry. Start them as an adjunct instructor, which typically requires different qualifications than a full-time position. Generally, they have the technical knowledge. What they lack is the classroom and learning management skills. Mentor them and most will succeed.

How do you keep the students the length of the program?
At Skyline College it is clear that the student comes first and automotive comes second. Without the students we would not have a program. While their interest in automotive attracted them to your program, it is the instructors and staff that keep them there for the long haul which is 2 to 3 years.

Once you establish a student-first attitude and the administration acknowledges it, the program will take an immediate upturn. We do this by hosting a Christmas Luncheon where the students provide all the food and we invite the college administration, the Chancellor, and the Board of Trustees. We also invite people from the campus who have helped our program: Building and Grounds, Admission and Records, Advisory Board, etc. At the end of the year we have a graduation/awards banquet and parents are invited along with the college administration, Chancellor, Board of Trustees, and the Advisory Board. On a regular basis each class has a barbeque. We make sure the students understand that it is THEIR program. Most administrators feed off the students. Our administrations over the years have had a feast with all that we do for the students.

Money follows people.
I have met with Deans and instructors from other colleges who wanted to see why Skyline College’s program is so successful. When they saw what we have they were in awe. Unfortunately, no amount of money would have fixed their programs at that time because they had people problems. By this, I mean instructors who did not get along or were not willing to work cooperatively in the best interest of the students. Some of those instructors have now retired and the programs are slowly improving. Might additional funding $$$ help them now? The simple answer is yes! I bet there are a few people who will read this and say, is he talking about my program?

Vocational programs have to be aggressive, involved, creative, and most importantly respected by their students, administration, and local business community. Administrators feed off the enthusiasm of their faculty. Let that enthusiasm come from the vocational programs. Then the funding and good things will begin to happen.

The RESPECT you create and inspire in others will determine the success of your automotive program.

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