A young man named Joe came out of Beale Air force Base several years ago and applied for classes in the Yuba College Auto Department. Possessing only the basics in tools and knowledge and having no certification, Joe nevertheless wanted to earn a living working on cars.
After 6 semesters he received his mechanics certification and went out in the workforce. When department head Mike Morse caught up with him several years later, a very satisfied Joe was living in Los Vegas earning over $100,000 working for a Porsche dealership. Joe is one of many success stories which have come out of the Yuba College Automotive Department since it came into operation in the early 1960’s.
The only one of its kind from Sacramento, CA to the Oregon border, the Yuba College automotive department has grown tremendously since it came into being. With expert instructors and the latest in tools and technology, it offers classes on every facet of automotive repair.
The auto body department, headed up by Professor Don Schumacher, offers thorough hands-on training in basic collision repair. Students who have never held a wrench before have completed his program and gained employment in the collision repair industry. The manufacturing department, under the leadership of Professor Doug Joksch, gives students the knowledge to build an engine, and prepares them to work on an assembly line.
According to Mike Morse, who has been teaching in the automotive department for 22 years, a student who receives his/her master mechanic certificate is virtually guaranteed a job, even in these tough economic times. “In this economy,” Morse told me, “you look around and the parking lots are still full of cars. They’re still running down the road; we still have traffic jams which means that somebody is going to have to repair them. We’re certainly not going to send them to China, Korea or some other place for someone else to do it, we’re going to have to do it. Whether its brakes, transmision work or smog, you’re going to have a job.”
To prove Morse’s words, all you have to do is look around the Yuba Sutter area, where perhaps a dozen mechanics’ shops are run by former Yuba College students and others are employed at dealerships or, like Morse’s own son, by the military.
Sadly however, despite its track record of success, the Automotive Department here at Yuba College has been hit hard by budget cuts in recent months. The five part time instructors who had worked in the Automotive Department had to be laid off, resulting in the cancelation of all night classes. About 33 percent of classes have been cut. The number of students per semester which the department can accommodate has been slashed in half. “I wouldn’t say its crippled us,” a concerned Morse commented, “But its really hampered our effect in giving out the certificates and licenses that we’d like to give out.”
With passion and determination, the Automotive Department instructors are doing a lot of hard work to keep the department going strong. Schumacher has reached out to the community, getting donations for materials from collision repair shops. Morse has applied for several grants, with varying degrees of success. More strikingly, however, these instructors have the ability to devise methods of teaching techniques when the tools and equipment needed just isn’t in the budget.
The students notice this. Brandy, a second-semester student and one of a few women in the department put it best: “All I have to say is “Thank God for the good instructor we have. What tools we don’t have he usually has a way around it.” James, another second-semester student agreed with her: “When I started out my test scores were a lot lower than they are now. If it wasn’t for the way he instructs and how exactly we do the testing I’d probably still not be doing well, now I’m passing tests just fine.”
These good instructors however, can only do so much. Faced with the possibility of an even tighter budget in the future, their concern that still more classes will be lost is great. The manufacturing classes, an exciting series which teaches students the art of engine building, may be next on the block if something isn’t done. “Its just like us at home with our checkbooks,” Schumacher observed, “If the money’s not coming in, we just can’t keep spending it at the level that we were, we just don’t have the money.”
The Yuba College Automotive Department offers students a very real chance to quickly get out in the workforce, earn a good living, and contribute to the economy as a whole. At a time when the economy is floundering and jobs are hard to come by, the employment market in the automotive service and repair industry is still strong.
To invest in this department is not just to invest in the students who wish to take classes, or the instructors and adjunct instructors who are employed. It’s to invest in the greater community by giving local folks the marketable skills which are almost sure to land them a job. This is not education for its own sake, but preparation for a role which offers people a livelihood while fulfilling a community’s need for highly specialized experts.