When Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI) began the accreditation process, Diesel Department Supervisor Corey Mushitz dreaded it. Now, looking back, he sounds surprised when he says it was an easy, straightforward procedure. “Ed Fredrick and Paul Anderson made this painless.” He credits them for sharing ideas and their time. “This has been one of the best things we have done for our program in a long time, and because of this, we now have a different way to measure our student success!”
Mushitz says no significant changes were required during the accreditation. “We needed to improve in some areas, but had an idea of this before the accreditation process.”
The Watertown, South Dakota, community college was already involved with The AED Foundation through the ThinkBIG program, but Mushitz says they became convinced that after developing relationships with other schools, becoming accredited would provide “a better way to measure our program.”
LATI also built strong relationships with industry partners, which Mushitz credits as one of the reasons for their success, adding that it’s a team effort involving students, instructors, administrators and industry partners. “Our industry partners are here at LATI all the time, helping the instructors,” Mushitz says. “Without them, we would not be where we are today.”
The school’s 14 instructors are strongly encouraged to take advantage of the different types of training those industry partners offer. One of the biggest challenges LATI faces is keeping up with the technology and figuring out ways to implement it in the classroom.
Their program lasts four semesters and focuses on the industrial and ag sectors, as well as on-highway trucks. Students earn an A.A.S. degree in diesel technology. Mushitz says space is limited for further growth.
The school’s Midwest location is an advantage, Mushitz believes. “Our students typically have some background knowledge because they have been raised in the agricultural industry.” He thinks that contributes to good retention rates, both at school and once LATI’s industry partners hire them. Some industry partners are local dealerships, which contribute monetarily, through donations and by hiring the school’s graduates.
Another “newbie,” Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology (CPI), became accredited in December of 2019. “The process was relatively painless since we already have a solid curriculum framework that was constructed with the assistance of our industry partners,” reflects Andrew King, program coordinator/lead instructor. With a solid platform already in place, King says, “AED Foundation-accreditation was a natural next step.”
The AED Foundation’s continued improvement in industry standards was the main selling point because it provides a benchmark that demands continuous effort to deliver better outcomes for the students. “Ultimately, that’s why we are here: to help our students become the best technicians.”
King considers the gap analysis the most valuable part of the process. That’s when they discovered concrete ways to improve their curriculum, pedagogy and physical space. Visiting evaluation team leaders (ETLs) streamlined the process, he adds, calling them “phenomenal” in showing CPI where they needed improvement. “They were knowledgeable about the field and excited to talk about all kinds of ways we could improve our program and our recruitment process.”
Their program – Heavy Diesel Construction, Case CE Emphasis – is enhanced by support from the local Case Construction dealer, Groff Tractor & Equipment. King says, Groff approached the school and helped them build the two-year program, which includes an externship at a Case CE dealer.
With a smaller organization and just six instructors, students get more one-on-one time, which King believes makes for better-trained technicians. Small class sizes and a low teacher-student ratio enables them to spend time working directly with each student.
Knowing they have their students’ futures in their hands, his instructors work hard to provide the best learning environment, says King. “Our instructors develop a relationship with our students, even after they earn their associates in Specialized Technology. We want to see them thrive. If our students are successful, then the program is successful.”
Nevertheless, King says, recruitment is a challenge due to the lack of students wanting to go into this workforce – or at least understanding that it is a viable career path. “We have increased our recruiting efforts, created events at our school to draw in potential students and allocated more funds toward advertising,” King says.
Having accreditation from The AED Foundation demonstrates that CPI meets industry standards, which King thinks can aid in recruitment. Students get a top-notch education, which benefits local dealers and the industry because they get highly trained entry-level technicians.
Recruitment isn’t a problem for the Diesel Technology program at Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC), which has experienced full capacity for as long as Shea Parsons, instructor and program chair, can remember. “We never start a new class at less than 100% capacity.” They have sometimes been forced to overbook certain classes to keep students on track for graduation, and they often have up to 50 prospective students on a waitlist to get into the program.
That waitlist is matched by another on the employer side. At last year’s annual job fair, 36 businesses were interested in hiring Parson’s students. “Some of those businesses were looking for as many as 15 techs,” he says, adding that when students see figures like that, the program sells itself.
AED Foundation-Accreditation has helped to make the program stronger and added legitimacy, Parsons insists. A strong advisory board – several of whom are graduates of the program – represents an array of local businesses covering the diesel tech and heavy equipment industry; the trucking industry; the Iowa Department of Transportation; and equipment, ag and specialty service areas.
Because they needed to be accredited by an outside agency, and since the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence focused solely on automotive applications, DMACC chose The AED Foundation. “The AED Foundation was the best fit for our program. We not only focus on trucks and automotive applications but heavy equipment, agricultural applications and even stationary power generation. The AED Foundation has a focus on heavy equipment and diesel applications; that was the obvious choice for our program.”
AED Foundation-accredited DMACC in 2005 after some equipment updates and curriculum adjustments. “That alone is a process,” Parsons says. “Any change to the curriculum has to be presented to and voted on by our advisory board, and then we take the changes to DMACC’s curriculum commission to justify the changes. After the commission votes on changes, it takes another year to implement them into the course catalog.”
Because of DMACC’s reputation, they enjoy support from local businesses. “If you looked around the shops and businesses in the area, you would find a lot of DMACC Diesel Tech grads working in those shops,” Parsons says. “Some shops won’t hire someone unless they have come through our program.”
Not only does the promise of work encourage enrollment, but it also ensures that the six full-time instructors remain current on new technologies. “New equipment will always be a big hurdle in this field,” Parsons reflects. Technology is evolving – and costly. “Staying up to date can be expensive when you’re talking about an $80,000 truck or a $100,000 piece of equipment.”
A recent struggle resulted from changes to after-treatment systems due to emissions regulations – a hot topic in the industry. “We are focusing right now on adding more information about after-treatment systems and emissions standards,” Parsons says, adding that anything in their fleet that is more than ten years old is practically obsolete, yet they “rarely get the chance to purchase complete trucks that are less than five years old unless we are offered a deal or receive a grant,” and most grants wouldn’t cover even half the cost of a brand-new machine.
Instead, DMACC has focused on obtaining training aids that represent specific systems and components without having to buy the whole machine. A grant from Daimler Trucks enabled them to purchase a 2017 Freightliner Cascadia Cab electronics simulator that features every component in the electrical system and electronics in the cab of a current truck at a fraction of the cost of the whole truck. Local dealerships also help with loans of new equipment, and guest demonstrations showcase the new technology, features and machines.
With a motivated student body and an enthusiastic faculty representing a wide range of industry experience, DMACC’s program has been successful. Parsons says, “There are endless good jobs in this field for the students.”
Wake Technical Community College’s Heavy Equipment and Transport Technologies program has been AED Foundation Accredited for 15 years. “We became AED Foundation Accredited because it gives us the strength of industry support,” says Jon Paige Kearns, professor and program director.
Becoming accredited wasn’t difficult, he continues, but they did see “definite improvement, knowing we were meeting industry expectations.” Staying accredited isn’t hard, either, because they utilize The AED Foundation’s guidelines and continuously adapt to updates.
Kearns is proud of that accreditation. “This tells our industry that we have cutting-edge programs that are relevant to today’s technological advances and that we are adhering to industry standards.”
He also believes that accreditation has a positive impact on enrollment, as does participating in middle and high school career fairs. Wake Tech has a waitlist.
Wake Tech is a John Deere-partnered school, Kearns explains, with programs for two different career paths: John Deere Construction & Forestry and John Deere Agricultural. Both are two-year associate-degree programs with a work-based learning component: credit for working at a John Deere dealership.
Kearns says that as they adapt to changes in technology and the industry, they’re also working on adding a forklift A.A.S. degree and diploma program. “I have established an advisory board and obtained industry support that’ll include components, equipment and course material,” he says.
Support from industry partners and four advisory boards have contributed to the success of their programs. An annual career fair draws 60-plus employers from all over the U.S. who are looking to hire 30-40 graduates and are willing to offer work-based learning opportunities to non-graduates; this signals a healthy industry, but Kearns says they continuously battle the old stigma that to be successful you need a four-year degree. “That just isn’t true,” he counters.
“Our graduates can get employment immediately – and they aren’t burdened with massive college debt.” Scholarships from industry partners that are only available to Wake Tech students, and other assistance such as complete or partial tuition reimbursement and tool incentives, make the programs an attractive alternative to traditional college plans.
“The accreditation process is intense,” recalls Doug Hammond, department chair/associate chair, State University of New York at Cobleskill (SUNY), which was first accredited by AED in 2004.
He says it was “tough to map the standards book into the coursework.” They also had to ensure that the student assessment component aligned with the standards. When the standards changed in 2017, the curriculum had to evolve. “If anything is added or changed, schools must adjust.”
Despite the challenges, Hammond says being AED Foundation Accredited “makes our program stand out.” Using external advisory holds its programs accountable to the industry.
With associate degrees in ag and construction, SUNY’s numbers are up, Hammond reports. Attributing some of that to “marketing and dealer reps,” he says students are encouraged to enroll when a degree comes with a job commitment from a dealer. “Our success is due to our relationship with the dealers and our ability to help students see job opportunities.” By working with the dealers, the instructors know what the students need to be able to do.
The instructors also have backgrounds in the industry and work together to share their knowledge. Hammond says the team’s strength lies in their ability to teach across all programs. “I’m proud of my team working together. The faculty and staff make an effort every day to find new ways to train our students and keep it fresh.”
Ultimately, he says, the product is the student, the customer is the dealer, and the program represents what the industry needs.