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Hope Star - Hope, AR
  • UACCH industrial program: From vo-tech to high-tech

  • The University of Arkansas Community College at Hope Technical/Industrial Professions Division now graduates more welding students each year than were in the original enrollment of the entire program when it began at the former Red River Vocational-Technical Institute.
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  • The University of Arkansas Community College at Hope Technical/Industrial Professions Division now graduates more welding students each year than were in the original enrollment of the entire program when it began at the former Red River Vocational-Technical Institute.
    That comparison makes Division Dean Randy Sanders proud of the history of continued growth and innovation in the program, Sanders told Hope Rotarians recently.
    Sanders has been an instructor in the program since its early days in 1982, under the leadership of J.W. Rowe and Bobby Taylor.
    I didn't think of myself as an educator,” Sanders quipped. “Our philosophy is that no matter what classes you take in our programs, as you go through them you gain skills and knowledge that you can go out in life and utilize; and, that is what many people have done.
    They may not have achieved the certificates, but they have taken that information and gone to work in industry, and they have done quite well,” he said.
    That explains why enrollment numbers, historically, have been high, but graduation numbers have been lower, Sanders said.
    I looked at what our average enrollment was in 1982, when I started, until our records started being kept in 1986; and, in most of our classes, we had about 18 students,” he said. “When I came there, we had air conditioning/refrigeration, bricklaying, carpentry, diesel, forestry, heavy equipment, industrial electricity, machine shop and welding.
    That was about 156 students a year in the trades,” Sanders said. “The last year that we were Red River Vocational Technical, our maximum enrollment was 165 students; and, at that time, we celebrated. We thought we were really knocking it out and doing a lot of good; and, actually, we were with what we had.”
    But, things have changed substantially since then, he pointed out.
    As you know, we just celebrated 1,500 students; so, there is a big difference,” Sanders said. “But, realize when you talk about UACCH, you're not just talking about Hope, but Prescott, Magnolia, Nashville, Dierks; from 50 miles around we draw pretty hard. And, we also draw quite a few students from Texas.”
    Page 2 of 3 - For most of the early years, he said the graduation rate was about 30 percent of the enrollment in the technical-industrial program.
    Most people who come to us come to get job skills,” Sanders said. “They are really not looking for that certificate, diploma or degree; they're looking to get enough skills to get a job and support their family.”
    Consequently, UACCH is not allowed to count those students as “completers” for academic purposes, Sanders said. But, that does not negate the impact of the program because of the jobs that follow.
    Our placement rate has, traditionally, been about 80 percent,” he said. But, that is 80 percent of graduating students, which does not count the 100 percent employment rate of those who have not graduated but have found jobs and left college.
    Actually, now, our placement rate is much better, because we don't have enough graduates to place for all the jobs that are out there,” Sanders said.
    While that means the demand for technical-industrial professions is booming, UACCH can't realistically expand its student acceptance rate because that would require faculty to be spread to thinly across the program.
    We try to keep our numbers around 16 to 18 students per class,” he said.
    The average age of students in the program is early 20s; and, many are now “non-traditional” students, those who are already in the workforce, but have returned to school for additional training or certification.
    Average starting salaries for graduates range from $8.50 to $14 per hour for HVAC graduates; $8.50 to $13 for industrial technology students; and, $28 per hour for power plant technology graduates.
    Sanders said the PPT program has been one of the most successful for UACCH, with 55 of the original 109 employees at the John W. Turk, Jr., Power Plant at Fulton coming directly from the program. He said power plant operators in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas have been interested in graduates of the program from the start.
    That program has been a raging success,” he said. “What we're hearing from them is a large part of their employees are nearing retirement and there is a lot more they will be looking for.”
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