Jim Kroll is a perfect example of many hvacr instructors currently in the industry. His program at Virginia Highlands Community College in Abingdon, VA, also reflects the state of many heating and air conditioning programs across the country, whether they are at the secondary or post-secondary level.

“We had been experiencing a decline in enrollment for several years,” said Kroll.

In the past, the five-semester program provided four course times: a morning and evening class for first-year students and a morning and evening class for second-year students.

“Then enrollment went down to half,” says Kroll. “The best decision was to have a rotating evening and morning class.”

That is where the program stands now. Currently, the first- year students attend the night classes, while students in their final year meet during the day. Also, there is a two-year interval for the start of the program. This means that new students must wait two years instead of one year to begin the program.

But things could be changing soon. Kroll’s program is once again on the rise. And the instructor is giving some of the credit to the Industry Competency Exam (ICE). The entry-level hvacr exam has opened the eyes of local contractors and prospective students, as well as administrators at the community college.

The hvacr program at Virginia Highlands Community College has seen an increase in enrollment, as well as an increase in lab equipment, due in part to high student test scores on the Industry Competency Exam (ICE).


Kroll says that this past August there was a spike in enrollment for his heating and air conditioning program. The number of students doubled to 30 in his night class. This section of the course has now been split in half, with some students in the lab while others are in lecture.

This also means that Kroll has been teaching double-duty as the school looks for another instructor.

Kroll believes that the increase in enrollment is due to the realization that students in the program are learning, doing well, and succeeding after graduation.

Three years ago, Kroll heard about the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute’s (ARI’s) Curriculum Guide for hvacr programs. ARI developed the guide with a number of industry insiders, including manufacturing training experts and hvacr instructors. The guide outlines what the industry says up-and-coming technicians must know before entering the field. The guide does not tell an instructor how to teach his or her course, but focuses on what should be taught.

Out of curiosity, Kroll ordered the guide to find out if his program was up to industry standards.

Through the curriculum guide Kroll learned about ICE. The guide says that programs should test the competency of their students by administering one of three ICE examinations. These exams cover Residential Air Conditioning and Heating, Light Commercial Air Conditioning and Heating, and Commercial Refrigeration.

Over 300 schools in the U.S. require students to complete and pass at least one of the ICE exams before graduating. The ICE exams test students on what the hvacr industry says entry-level techs must know to be competent in the field.

Three years ago, Kroll implemented the Residential Air-Conditioning and Heating ICE exam in his program. Over the past three years, only one of Kroll’s students failed to pass the exam.

Overall, the national average of hvacr students that pass the residential ICE exam is 60%. Kroll’s program has a 96% pass rate.

With these high marks, it was time for Kroll to get the word out.

“We put together press releases and the local paper has done some write-ups,” Kroll said.

Besides informing the public about the students’ success on the ICE exam, Kroll has also pointed out success stories about students who have gone on to establish successful careers in the field. Kroll points out that, in the last class to graduate, nine out of 10 students had jobs in the hvacr field by the time they were in their fourth semester.

The public relations campaign has helped Kroll reap some rewards.

For example, Kroll says that in his first seven years of teaching, “The state was not buying equipment. We depended on local donations or damaged goods from a dealer.”

In the last year, a statewide initiative was passed in Virginia to begin providing more equipment for vocational programs. Kroll believes that his program was able to get a little more of this benefit due to the proof that his program puts out qualified technicians.

“We’ve found that it is easier to get supplies now,” says Kroll. “With our pass rate, it seems we get these extra things.”

According to Kroll, more individuals have expressed an interest in the course at the college. Recently, a sheet metal company located an hour away from the college sent employees to the program for cross training.

Kroll credits the upswing in attendance with “offering the quality product and having a means to verify it.”

Hvacr instructors have found that administering the ICE exam in the classroom can bring unexpected benefits for their programs.


Kroll is not the only instructor who has been able to bolster his program through the use of ICE.

Allan Levandowski, instructor at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, IL, is in his third year of using the ICE exam to complete his program.

In the first year of implementing the exam, Levandowski’s students were ranked among the highest in the state, as well as in the nation, for their test scores. This kind of accomplishment did not go unnoticed.

“Since we’ve been using [ICE], the administration has been very impressed,” said Levandowski.

In the near future, the college will be constructing a new tech building for the hvacr program, which will expand the current space from 9,000 sq ft to 12,000 sq ft.

Levandowski’s advisory board is also impressed with the success rate and with ICE. Contractors on Levandowski’s board say they will begin using ICE as a barometer for hiring technicians.

Word has gotten out about Levandowski’s program and enrollment has climbed. Since making changes in curriculum, course times, and implementing ICE, Levandowski says enrollment has gone up by 50 students.

Both Kroll and Levandowski have seen the benefits of making ICE a part of the hvacr program. But they also know that it is more than just a benefit to the course, but a great opportunity for students.

Levandowski explains that in the Grayslake area, employers are familiar with Lake County College, but if a graduate of the program were to apply for a job in California, the college and the quality of the program might be unfamiliar to the employer. But by passing the ICE exam, this can ensure contractors that the tech they are hiring has the skills necessary to succeed in the industry.

For more information on ICE, visit www.ari.org (website).

Publication date: 01/14/2002