Phoenix-based Universal Technical Institute, Inc. will close its heating/ventilation/air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC/R) program, phasing out the program over the next 12-15 months.

Officials at the school cited challenges with student recruitment and lack of awareness about career opportunities as the culprits for the closure of the HVAC program.

"Over the years the participation in the HVAC program has dwindled," said Tina Miller-Steinke, director of corporate communications at the Universal Technical Institute. "It's not as glamorous to students as our automotive program is because the automotive makers are large companies with lots of opportunity for the students all over the country. Most of the contractors are smaller and independent and don't have that exposure."

"This is one of the most difficult decisions this company has ever had to make," said Kim McWaters, president of Universal Technical Institute, Inc. "We have a dedicated team of instructors, educational representatives and others who are very passionate about this program. Unfortunately, it did not make strategic or financial sense to continue the program."

All current and enrolled HVAC/R students will be able to complete their training at the Universal Technical Institute's Phoenix campus. The final class of HVAC/R students will start school Sept. 2, 2003. The last graduation for the program will be in the summer of 2004. The organization's employment services department will continue to offer job placement assistance to graduates and industry employers.

Universal Technical Institute, Inc. has provided technical education training since 1965 and has graduated more than 70,000 professional technicians.