South Plains College is the first institution in Texas to receive national accreditation for the Diesel Service Technology Program from the Association of Equipment Dealers.
The program has been working on getting accredited for four and a half to five years, according to Whitney Owens, program coordinator and professor of diesel service technology.
“There were some major hurdles we had to overcome,” said Owens, “One of which was we had to have a certain number of pieces of heavy equipment in possession.”
Other changes included revamping the state-mandated curriculum.
“On top of that, we also had some instructor changes along the way,” explained Owens, adding that getting accredited was stretched out longer than it would have taken, which is about two to three years.
The Diesel Service Technology Program had to pass several requirements listed in a book of standards, which is available on the Association of Equipment Dealers (AED) website, in order to get accredited. The professors teaching in this program had to make sure they were teaching classes to the full extent.
“It’s technical standards, like are you teaching electrical systems to the full extent,” Owens said. “Same thing with engines, power trains, hydraulics, air conditioning, all the technical stuff.”
The professors in the program had to come up with documentation of what they taught and how much time they spent on the topics.
AED also looked at how South Plains College was structured, such as how the college is accredited, which it is through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
Dr. Ryan Gibbs, vice president for academic affairs at SPC, said, “they (AED) did a site visit, and in that site visit there’s certain requirements. They came out, looked through our facilities, made a couple of small recommendations about lighting (it was a little dark). It’s everything from the cleanliness of the facility, to the equipment that we have.”
Once the changes were made, AED granted approval.
“Having the first in Texas to be accredited by the AED foundation, that’s a pretty good feather in our cap,” Owens said. “It means we got a good program. It’s a big sense of accomplishment.”
Owens continued to explain that there were a lot of staff who helped pull this together.
“It’s very much a team effort here,” added Owens, “Because this is a major undertaking. They only have about 50 schools in the whole country who are accredited, and some of those are in Canada.”
Dr. Gibbs explained that receiving the accreditation is an honor.
“It really shows that our faculty are looking to always push the envelope as far as excellence goes,” he said. “It was not required for us by the state of Texas, or by SACS, to have this extra accreditation. But it shows our commitment, that we are doing the very top of the line when it comes to career and technical education.”
He went on to explain that they want to make sure that their graduates are ready to go into the workforce.
“They’re going to have the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to be the best so we’re really excited, extremely proud,” added Dr. Gibbs, who said that by receiving the accreditation, it is producing excellent programs, which, in turn, creates excellent graduates. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Owens explained that they sought the accreditation because it gives more opportunities to the students.
“When they came out of the program before we had this, they could go to work pretty much at all the truck and tractor shops,” Owens said. “But if they tried to go work at a machinery shop, they really don’t know the hydraulics well enough to do that. They didn’t know the power shift transmission well enough to do that. This training fills in those gaps, and, therefore, creates another avenue for success.”
Before the Diesel Service Technology Program received national accreditation, the program was mainly aimed toward those planning on going into the workforce in the transportation industry, such as working on semi-trucks and busses. Now that the program is accredited, it has opened up a new avenue for students who want to work on heavy equipment, such as bull dozers and excavators, according to Owens, and improves the students who want to go into the ag market.
“It’s going to cause them (students) to be more marketable,” Dr. Gibbs said, “to have more marketable skills. It’s going to cause them to be able to gain a job in the industry and diesel technology. The most important thing is that our students get jobs, that they get high paying jobs, and then they are ahead of the curve when they walk into a position and are ready to go as soon as day one of a new job.”
As far as the future goes, Owens said that the accreditation will open doors for everyone in the industry, helping to develop more training partnerships and attract more people from greater distances to come to SPC.
“If your heart’s desire is to turn wrenches on bulldozers,” Owens said, “we’re the only accredited school in Texas that offers that training.”