NMU auto service tech program gets accredited for the first time

One of Northern Michigan University’s technical education programs has had declining enrollment in recent years, but as ABC 10 senior reporter Mike Hoey shows us, it’s just taken a big step toward reversing that trend.

NMU’s automotive service technology program is a two-year program leading to an associate’s degree. It’s just been accredited by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation. This is the first time the program has ever been accredited in its four-decade history.

“For us in our initial accreditation, we had to review all aspects of our program, from curriculum to facilities to equipment,” NMU automotive instructor Jerry Bugni said. “We had to change some courses around (and) add some courses; we had quite a bit of work involved in this.”

The accreditation may help the ongoing effort to start a middle college program in the Marquette area. It would be a five-year program leading to both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree. There’s been talk of having auto service tech programs in the middle college.

“The accreditation makes that program that much more attractive to students, and that’s the key behind the middle college,” MARESA career and technical education director Brian Sarvello said. “We’re trying to provide a strong incentive for students to choose a career in the trades, which we know is a great opportunity, especially today.”

“There’s a lot of demand for good-quality technicians now, especially in the U.P.,” Bugni said. “There’s job openings. I think the average tech in the U.P. makes about $38,000 (per year).”

The effort to start the middle college program is still in the very early stages. No start date has been announced, but once it does begin, Frei Chevrolet president Jim Grundstrom says he’s interested in hiring its auto tech students either as interns or in some other capacity.

“I don’t know quite what we’d call it, but (it’s) the opportunity to work and learn, work and learn, work and learn,” he said. “So much of book learning is wonderful, but when you connect the book learning with the hands-on, you really have a wonderful marriage.”

The accreditation through NATEF lasts for five years. It’s a sign that the NMU program is meeting standards developed by the auto industry with a result of students that are ready to enter the work force.