At Central Maine Community College, the Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Technology program is so new, the boilers are still being installed —  30 of them, to be exact.

“We’re still in the process,” Marc Gilbert, the chair of the college’s HVAC and plumbing program, said with a laugh. “I have refrigeration simulators showing up this week.”

The HVAC-R program at the college in Auburn, Maine launched in 2019 and will graduate its first associate’s degree class this year.


‘My Industry Is Starving For People’

After 40 years working as a technician, Gilbert entered the field of education to lead the program at CMCC.

“I have to work my best to keep [the students] in the program because the job market is so hot. There are opportunities just because they’ve got the first year of certificates,” he told SNIPS.

“I’m not kidding. My industry is starving for people.”

In their first year at CMCC, students can earn an HVAC certification or plumbing certification.

Courses in the first year cover topics such as 608 refrigerants, electricity troubleshooting, diagnostics and heat loss and an occupational health and safety course.

The program’s second year deals includes classes on carbon fuels and an externship, and culminates with an associate’s degree in applied science.


Low Barrier To Entry, High Likelihood Of Employment

Full-time students at CMCC with 15 credit hours per semester pay $2,880 in tuition annually, or $96 per credit hour. It’s the lowest tuition rate in New England, according to the school.

A four-year high school degree or state high school equivalency certificate — a GED or HiSET – is required for admission. More than half of the HVAC-R program’s pupils are first-generation college students, and their average age is 28.

“I graduate kids with low debt that will be paid off,” Gilbert said.

One of Gilbert’s students is “getting tired of being laid off,” he said.

The student is planning to become a self-employed plumber.

“That’s the mandate we have in front of us. We’re workforce development and trainers as a community college,” Gilbert said. 


Bringing 72 Years Of HVAC Experience To Students

The fall semester has been a hard one due to the coronavirus pandemic, Gilbert said.

Students are coming in every other week to CMCC’s 5,000-square-foot lab: half the class one week, and the other half the next. The remainder of the class time is completed virtually on Zoom.

“They meet with us for a total of probably five hours of lecture and then we give them 5 to 5 1/2 hours of lab every other week,” Gilbert said.

Students work in teams of two — as is common on the job for HVAC-R technicians — at mock-up stations at the school.

The combined experience of the program’s two full-time instructors totals about 72 years, he said.

“We are very practical professional technicians. That’s what we are. We’ve moved over to education to help promote more workforce, more people. We are technicians.”