Laramie County (WY) Community College’s decision to deactivate its automotive body repair program is raising concerns with some industry partners, who say it’s one more blow to an industry already struggling to find talent.
On March 17, the LCCC Board of Trustees voted to close the program at the end of this school year, citing low enrollment, the expensive nature of the program and lower starting wages than those in comparable technical fields.
Fewer than 12 students have enrolled in the auto body repair program since 2019, and only a total of four students have enrolled during the 2020-21 school year.
The decision comes months after the college made a $4 million reduction in its annual budget, which is part of Gov. Mark Gordon’s directive that all state agencies cut their budgets by at least 10%.
One full-time faculty member will lose their job as a result of the program closure.
LCCC President Joe Schaffer estimated deactivating the program will save the college roughly $200,000, which he said the college intends to reallocate toward building its manufacturing program offerings. Right now, the college does not offer a degree program in the area.
“This is one part budget-related. But the other part is our interest in ramping up our advanced manufacturing programming,” Schaffer told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on March 19, lamenting the austere budget environment that has forced these decisions. “Our plans at this juncture are to utilize [the auto collision repair] space to house the manufacturing programming, which aligns with the state’s and region’s economic development goals.”
David Robinette, the Northwest regional business development principal for the Inter-industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR), which has provided the curriculum to LCCC’s program, said the deactivation is just one of several “unfortunate” auto body repair program closures he’s seen across the Mountain West over the past few years.
“We can’t keep closing these schools, because we’re in a critical state in the collision industry with a shortage of new entry-level technicians coming in. They’re not coming in as fast as the retirees are coming out,” Robinette said. “Every time one of these schools closes, we’re that much closer to an irretrievable problem.”
Robinette believes a lack of recruitment and...