Refrigeration Degrees: Associate, Certification & Online Course Info

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Certificate and associate degree programs in refrigeration can lead to careers installing and servicing commercial and residential refrigeration equipment. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and online options, and find out what you can do with your training.
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Studying Refrigeration: Certificates and Associate Degrees at a Glance

You can learn about the refrigeration industry and repair and service procedures through 3-5 year apprenticeship programs or through certificate and associate degree programs covering heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC+R). While all job categories were projected to grow 14% from 2010-2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers were expected to increase 34%. Opportunities are available in residential or commercial environments. Holders of associate degrees may have sales, management, estimating or self-employment options.

Refrigeration professionals must pass at least one of three U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) examinations on handling of small appliance, high-pressure or low-pressure refrigerants, according to the BLS. Individual states may require separate examinations for licensing. Candidates who have passed industry-specific certification exams, such as the Industry Competency Exam (ICE) of the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), may be preferred by employers.

Certificate Associate
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want an entry-level position in the refrigeration field Individuals interested in entry- to mid-level positions or future advancement to management
Common Career Paths (with approximate salary) - Refrigeration mechanic ($54,000)*
- Commercial refrigeration sales account manager ($41,000)*
- HVAC refrigeration technician ($60,000)*
- Cost estimator ($37,000-$82,000-may require additional education or experience)**
- Sales representative ($75,000)**
- Self-employed contractor (salary not available)
Time to Completion Under 2 years, full-time Usually 2 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - May involve 30-45 credits
- Laboratory work
- Approximately 60-80 credits
- Laboratory work
Prerequisites - High school graduate or currently enrolled
High school diploma or GED
Online Availability Online coursework is available, especially from professional associations Online coursework is available

Sources: *PayScale.com (2012 median salary), **PayScale.com (2012 10th-90th percentile salary range), ***U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 median wage).

Certificates in Refrigeration

Certificate programs require a short-term, non-degree commitment and include theoretical and laboratory or hands-on training in refrigeration system design, installation, maintenance and repair for various types of equipment. These programs usually combine air conditioning with refrigeration studies. Coursework could include temperature control theory, equipment design and electronics. You might have opportunities to focus on commercial refrigeration or other areas.

Depending on your program, you may be required to pass the EPA and ICE or other related entry-level industry-developed exams to graduate. Co-operative education or internship options may also be available.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A short-term program could help you learn a skill that can get you into the workplace quickly.
  • Courses may be designed to facilitate credit transfer to associate degree programs.
  • Programs may be valuable for both entry-level candidates and working professionals interested in increasing their knowledge of the refrigeration specialty.

Cons

  • An associate degree exploring all aspects of HVAC+R may provide additional skills that could support a broader range of opportunities or setting up your own business.
  • Programs could require a preliminary reading and math skill set that you may need to address.
  • Professionals who work with refrigerant are required to be certified; you can expect to complete exams to earn this certification*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Programs often require math and reading courses plus work in refrigeration, electricity and electronic controls laboratories. A basic understanding of plumbing and electronics or electrical work could be helpful. You can learn about wiring diagrams, control devices and methods for handling refrigerant. Some programs offer courses that help students develop blueprint reading skills and solve common problems using math.

You may find courses like these in a certificate curriculum covering refrigeration:

  • Refrigeration service techniques
  • Refrigeration electricity
  • Technical calculations
  • Air conditioning and heating
  • Refrigeration welding
  • Commercial refrigeration
  • EPA certification

Online Courses

Completely online entry-level programs are not common at traditional schools, due to laboratory requirements. Home study courses are available through professional organizations like the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association, and through community colleges. Online coursework may help candidates progress from the apprentice to journeyman level and covers basic HVAC fundamentals and safety methods.

Standing Out with This Certificate

To stand out in this field, you could earn industry certifications like those offered by the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society or HVAC Excellence. Both of these organizations offer commercial refrigeration certifications to qualified applicants who pass exams. Students may also consider acquiring additional training in electronics or computer systems and programs used in this field. The BLS reports that applicants with experience in these areas could have better job opportunities.

Associate Degrees in Refrigeration

Associate degree programs involve both classroom instruction and hands-on training in refrigeration. These programs can prepare you for an entry-level position in the industry. Although advanced courses may be available as electives, you'll probably also learn heating and air conditioning basics.

These programs teach you to follow blueprints and interpret wiring schematics. You could learn to install and test equipment for proper operation, diagnose breakdowns and charge refrigerant lines. You might learn about handling equipment specific to warehouses, restaurants, schools, hotels or supermarkets. Associate degree programs also cover government regulations regarding the conservation and recycling of refrigerant.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • This degree program can prepare you for an entry-level job.
  • Communication and problem-solving skills acquired through these programs can help you start your own business or advance in your career.
  • Some or all of your credits could be transferable to a 4-year program in mechanical engineering technology, HVAC design or building automation.
  • Strong growth field (projected 34% growth from 2010-2020)*

Cons

  • Paid apprentice program training might not require the financial outlay of a degree.
  • Installation work related to construction could diminish during economic downturns.*
  • Additional training could be needed to stay informed of current refrigerant laws, refrigeration equipment and HVAC technology .

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Core general education courses in English, math, physical science, the social sciences and communication are required in addition to technical education. Your program may also include commercial driver's license training so you can transport equipment. Competence in commonly used computer programs could be required for graduation. You can also participate in internships or capstone projects.

Refrigeration and HVAC courses include:

  • Service and procedures
  • Refrigeration systems and controls
  • Basic electricity
  • Electrical components
  • Residential code

Online Course Options

Online associate degree programs in refrigeration aren't commonly available. The hands-on nature of refrigeration training generally requires students to participate in labs and courses on campus. Students interested in furthering their training in this field can find home study courses through organizations like the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association. These include webinars and virtual courses.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

To stand out in the field, you might want to find a program that's recognized by the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA), which accredits programs that conform to industry standards. You can also look for training programs that prepare you for the EPA test and industry certifications. Schools may offer sponsored chapters of organizations like the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers that facilitate participation in service projects, field trips or design competitions.

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