The convenience of earning a college degree online has been a popular lure for many. For some, the convenience of obtaining a degree online immediately following high school or vocational school training has been a natural progression. For others, using the Internet to start or complete a degree after being in the business world for a while has opened up new opportunities for them.

Whatever the reason, many individuals seeking a career in HVACR have been part of a successful “distance learning” online program offered by Ferris State University, which began the program in 2001.

“The online experience helped me in my career goals by expanding my knowledge in the field of HVACR to help me expand the objectives of the program at the local technical college where I teach,” said David Kibler, program coordinator/HVAC department, Piedmont Technical College Greenwood, S.C. “Being able to take the courses online provided the freedom to attend class and complete work on my own schedule. Since I was working full time and raising a young family, it was extremely important to be able to work at different times of the day.”

The undergraduate online program offers 10 HVAC upper division courses, two of which are labs that require attendance on the Ferris campus in Big Rapids, Mich. Other requirements include:

• Complete an associate degree program in refrigeration, heating and air conditioning (or equivalent) from any accredited college or university with a cumulative grade point average of 2.5 or higher;

• Have completed college-level intermediate algebra, two semesters of English and a laboratory science course (preferably physics) with a grade of C or better;

• Have computer competency (demonstrated skill with word processing and spreadsheets); and

• Have access to a high-speed Internet connection.

To complete the degree, students may need to take additional general education coursework to fulfill Ferris’ graduation requirements. These courses are typically available at a local community college and/or online through Ferris.


“My decision to enroll in the HVACR program at Ferris State was based on a recommendation and a thorough evaluation of the program,” said Jeremy Huggins of Las Vegas, currently serving in the United States Air Force. “The flexibility of the Ferris State online program was paramount to my success. Another outstanding aspect of enrolling through Ferris State was my Community College of the Air Force associate’s degree transferred very nicely to Ferris State.

“The online HVACR program greatly expanded my knowledge of HVACR design. My military HVACR test scores have been in the top 10 percent of my class since I entered the program.”

Marty Williams, who works for Guardian Environmental Services of Livonia, Mich., said he had been “chasing a college degree for 38 years” and through a number of different paths in his working career, he wound up in the HVACR field as a truck driver for a local contractor.

“I advanced my position to a member of the installation department,” Williams said. “I saw much potential in this field and the opportunities that it could bring. I enrolled in the energy technology program at [nearby] Henry Ford Community College and earned an associate’s degree.

“The want for a bachelor’s degree continued on in me. I checked several schools - both traditional and online - for degrees in this field. I could only find degrees for mechanical engineering. I was not really interested in this degree because of the many areas it covers, not focusing on the HVAC aspect specifically. While surfing I found the Ferris State site. I read about their off-campus program and the HVACR program specifically. It was a perfect fit for what I wanted.”

Williams enrolled in 2006 and completed his class requirements in 2008.

James Tankersley, an instructor at Altamaha Technical College in Jesup, Ga., was looking to get a Bachelor’s degree in HVACR technology and enrolled in the Ferris State online program. It took him 2 1/2 years to complete his requirements, including a visit to the campus.

“I have gained tremendous knowledge in the field of HVACR engineering and have been able to use this knowledge as an instructor, teaching students at Altamaha Technical College, as well as within my own company (Tank’s Maintenance), doing HVACR commercial and residential work,” Tankersley said. “The possibilities are endless with this degree, and I am looking forward to new challenges.”


People like Williams have seen an added value for an advanced degree because of the changing job markets, opportunities for advancement, and being able to offer more skills to present or future employers.

Bob Nash, a 30-year veteran of the HVACR trade, moved up the ladder to vice president of engineering and operations at different companies with only an associate’s degree. Nash, a senior engineer with Emerson Climate Services, Sydney, Ohio, said he saw the need for a bachelor’s degree because “the climate has changed in the industry,” he said.

“Being able to do the work is not enough anymore, many companies want you to have the degree also. I wanted to finish off my BS degree and was too busy to take classes at local colleges, so the online program was a perfect fit since they let me take what I needed, when I needed it and go at my own pace to some extent.

“Besides finishing off my degree, I also wanted to be brought up to speed on the new advancements in the parts of the industry that I have not been involved in.”

Gerald McClelland of Abington, Mass., a director of facilities management for the commonwealth of Massachusetts, said the degreed program has helped him with the new challenges of energy management. “I have completed HVAC engineering technology courses in the online format that will help with energy management strategies of commercial and industrial buildings along with the designing of HVAC components that will serve these facilities as well,” he said. “Creating the most energy-efficient HVAC system is by far and away the most important issue the industry faces today, and this degree program faces these challenges head on.”

Former Ferris State online student Robert Hembree of Johnson Controls, Tulsa, Okla., jokingly said the program has made him instantly smarter. “I believe it gives me more credibility with customers and co-workers,” he said. “Just a few days ago a co-worker and I were looking up the designed pressure drop across the chiller evaporator in the chiller installation literature. The flow rate was not listed. The co-worker said ‘You’re the engineer, you should know.’ With very little thought, I did know!”

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Publication date:01/26/2009