In fact, a couple of national rating sites suggest the YC program has the reputation as “…the best, by far.”
Something must attract students, because enrollment applications keep increasing, reports John Morgan, dean of the Career and Technical Education Division.
“Several years ago, we had a four-year waiting list of those wanting to enroll in the two-year program. That list was too hard to manage. International recognition of the quality of the program forced us to restrict enrollment to no more than 100 students annually – 50 new students each year. Now, it’s on a first-come, first-served system. Classes fill in just one day,” Morgan said.
What’s more, students are not from just Arizona. They come from throughout North America and some foreign countries.
Alan Rohr, chair of the gunsmithing program, said, ”Students come from coast to coast –California to Maine, Canada to Mexico.”
Foreign students, too, enroll, from as far away as Germany in Europe or Australia in the South Pacific.
How Do Potential Students Learn of the Program?
“Our gunsmithing curriculum seems to be known internationally. Routinely, we’re mentioned in professional and consumer firearms publications, and word-of-mouth – nothing louder than that,” said Rohr.
Job opportunities are “limited only by the ambition of the student,” Rohr said.
He says a few students learn gunsmithing as a hobby. Others want to run their own businesses, work for other professionals or become gun repairmen; or in some cases, work for the firearms and metals industry.
Likewise, income levels are fundamentally limited only by how serious the gun artisan is about making a living.
“It’s not unusual for a well-crafted, intricately engraved custom hunting weapon to sell in the high five figures,” Rohr said.
Much of the program’s success is a consequence of longevity. Gunsmithing was introduced in 1972, just three years after the college was founded.
The program has remained true to its original objective – the study of building, modifying, designing and repairing custom firearms. Viewed as a skilled trade, it requires an intense combination of mathematics, metalworking, chemistry, ballistics, woodworking, design and other related disciplines.
Dean Morgan suggests the YC program has its outstanding reputation because “…we have a long-term, highly skilled ‘Old School’ faculty that demands excellence. Most students have to be here 40 hours a week to complete the strict requirements. This program is not for the lazy or faint of heart.”
Department head Rohr typifies the kind of demanding professor Morgan describes. As a graduate of Yavapai College, Rohr has been coordinating the program for more than 20 years.
Rohr explains that admission requirements are stringent and competitive. First, applicants must have mandatory clearance for the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms eligibility requirements based on records of prior criminal convictions, drug use or mental illness.
In addition, applicants face tough interview questions on the application, coupled to a comprehensive health survey. These factor into admission.
Once admitted, students can select from two options offered through YC: 1) A 40-unit journeyman certificate, or 2) A 60-unit Associate of Applied Science degree.
Rohr and seven other professional faculty members teach in the program. The other professors are adjunct faculty, with highly specialized background and experience. YC programs are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Community Benefits From Non-Traditional Student Enrollment
Unlike students enrolled in many traditional community college programs, those who are selected for the reputable, yet highly regulated gunsmithing program are not typical college enrollees.
Many students are non-Arizona residents, meaning they pay considerably more than the estimated resident $10,000 for tuition, books and fees if they are enrolled in the AAS degree program. Some opt for on-campus dorm living. Non-resident students can spend an estimated $17,000 or more just for school expenses in the same program.
College costs for the non-degree certification program are estimated at about $9,500 annually.
Beyond those basic costs, gunsmithing students must buy some of their own personal gun making and machining equipment.
The fundamental difference between the AAS degree program and the certification program is that the degree requires 60 units of coursework across a two-year period. Twenty units are in general education courses such as English composition, math, social studies and science.
Those students seeking only certification take only 40 credit units.
Both programs take students two academic years to complete the gunsmithing coursework.
“Many of our students are veterans – some with considerable combat background. Some are quite a bit older, some married with families. Probably the average age is 40 or older, so the pressure to study and complete the program is self-imposed,” Rohr said.
“I need to note, too, that several women have enrolled in the program. And know what? They are sometimes the best students.”
He continued, “Most of these students come here and settle down in the community as residents. Some get jobs – or someone in their family may have a job. These folks are here to learn a serious trade. And along the way, they can learn how to make some serious money.”
Both Morgan and Rohr noted that attrition can be high.
“Our program is considered one of the toughest in the nation, and a student can’t afford to fall behind. The curriculum is almost lock-step and progressive. Students have to commit to be in classes – most of them ‘hands on’ – at least four days a week, usually from 8:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon,” Rohr emphasized.
“And the coursework is tedious and demanding. Learning to machine on a metal lathe or a vertical mill when you are dealing with absolute tight tolerances – man, that’s tough! And if you screw up, you start all over.”
Rohr’s face brightened as he described a student who recently finished building a customized shotgun, complete with intricate engraving on finely finished steel surfaces, wedded to a hand-crafted, precisely fitted, richly finished walnut burl stock.
“Seeing that student giving such close attention to detail and taking such pride in genuinely quality work – that’s about as good as it gets for a teacher.“ QCBN
By Ray Newton