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OC welding program sees drastic jump in enrollment

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If you ask Olympic College welding instructor Al Kitchens why so many more students are signing up for welding classes now, his first answer would be, “It is not because of me.”

Kitchens, who has been an instructor at OC since November 2004, was brought on board when OC received an opportunity grant.

He brought with him a wealth of experience obtained from years as a sub-contractor for Boeing and other jobs in the aerospace industry.

Upon arriving at OC, his goal was to grow the welding program, which was “a one instructor, daytime class kind of program.”

“When I came onboard, we opened up our program to not only have morning labs, but to also have afternoon labs,” Kitchens said. “And from that, we now also have an evening program. We are now open basically from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.”

The program, which once saw enrollment of only opportunity grant students, is now teaching classes to a variety of people.

“Now, people are coming in for worker retraining,” Kitchens said. “Also, a lot of individuals are retiring from branches of the military and tapping into their VA (Veteran’s Administration) benefits and getting into welding.”

This has caused record enrollment in the school’s welding program and even over-enrollment.

“The program has grown to a point where all of the sections we have are completely filled up,” he said. “The limit of students per instructor is 20 for our classes and we are over-enrolled. Never before in the history of the program have we had it filled up to that level. Literally, this quarter has just been an explosion.”

The college tracks full-time enrollment (FTE) for its classes and the numbers for the welding program prove Kitchens’ case.

In the 2005-06 school year, OC’s FTE for welding students was about 50 students. The program has seen a gradual increase in those numbers over the last few years and ended last year with an average of 83 FTEs. This year, that number has jumped to 97.

This number is a count of just full-time students though, Kitchens added. Many students come in to take specialized certificate courses like arc welding or technical drawing.

“SAFE Boats International is a staunch supporter of our weld program,” Kitchens said. “We have adjusted our programs to cater to their needs.”

This has given people a chance to learn what they need to become employed in a welding job and in only one quarter of school time.

“In the year-and-a-half we have been doing these certificate programs we have had four people who took specific classes and are currently working at SAFE Boats,” Kitchens added.

The Shelton campus has added a welding program too as a result of this growth.

“Chris Hobson teaches the Shelton students out at the Bronze Works and has done so for almost a year now,” Kitchens said.

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