Ever since the years after World War II, when air conditioners started to become commonplace in the U.S., technicians with the tools and the know how to keep them running have been vital members of the workforce. The technology has changed significantly since then, and heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR, though HVAC alone is still commonly used) technicians are in higher demand than ever.
A 2018 survey conducted by Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) found that 75 percent of construction firms plan to hire more workers in the coming years, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth to occur in the HVACR industry at a rate that's nearly double the nationwide occupational average. What's more, the existing HVACR workforce is expected to see numerous retirements over the next 10 years, further expanding the pool of open positions.
You'll learn the ins and outs of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in HVACR programs, as well as the technical terminology and engineering literacy necessary to communicate effectively with other members of your profession. Some programs may also include training in energy efficiency or project management.
Even though HVACR degrees typically include hands-on training, it's possible to learn the trade without ever setting foot in a classroom. The curriculum in an online HVACR program consists of distance education courses designed to give working students the flexibility they need to complete their training on a convenient schedule. Check out our list of top schools below for more info on available online HVACR programs.
Best Colleges for HVACR Degree Programs 2019-20
We wanted to find out which of the hundreds of HVACR schools in the U.S. had the most to offer potential students, so we collected data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and ranked each school in important categories like affordability, flexibility and student success rate. Click the Methodology button to learn more about how we calculated the scores, and read on for the best colleges for HVACR degree programs.
The Dallas-area campus of this nationwide private institution is relatively new on the HVACR training scene, opening its doors in the late 1990s, but it had one of the best graduation rates among all HVACR schools in the country in 2018. Nearly 75 percent of students who enrolled here finished their programs in three years or less, and fully 100 percent remained enrolled to continue their studies past their first year.
HVACR programs at Remington: Two HVACR programs are available here: an two-year associate degree plan that combines classroom education with hands-on training and a diploma program that can be completed in as little as 12 months of full-time study. Both programs at Remington include opportunities for HVACR certification.
Atlanta Technical College is one of the top destinations on our list for distance education students. Nearly 60 percent of the more than 3,500 learners enrolled for the 2018-19 academic year took at least some of their coursework online. It also featured one of the lowest average costs for tuition and fees among all schools we surveyed, charging students just over $2,800 for one year of instruction.
HVACR programs at ATC: Students at ATC have multiple HVACR programs to choose from, including technical certificate plans that can be completed in just one semester and a comprehensive 54-credit diploma. There may not be a fully online HVACR program on the schedule, but students may be able to take certain general education courses via distance education.
Operating in the Atlanta metropolitan area since 1961, Georgia Piedmont Technical College has the longest history of any of the nearly two dozen members of the Technical College System of Georgia. No other school on our list awarded more HVACR-related degrees and certificates than GPTC, which reported a total of nearly 250 graduates in 2018.
HVACR programs at GPTC: Two HVACR diploma programs are offered at this north central Georgia school. The air conditioning technology program includes a few general studies courses along with its training in A/C troubleshooting, gas heat and refrigeration principles, while the diploma in commercial refrigeration adds training in large appliances such as ice machines and industrial freezers. Tuition relief for both programs may be available to recipients of Georgia's HOPE Career Grant.
Hands-on instruction is the name of the game at Ranken Technical College, where students take at least three hours of training in a laboratory or shop environment for every hour spent sitting in a classroom. It's also one of the more close-knit learning environments among our top HVACR schools, with fewer than 1,700 students enrolled in 2018 and a very comfortable student-faculty ratio of 11:1.
HVACR programs at RTC: Students seeking HVACR training and certification at RTC can choose among an Associate of Technology (A.T.) program, an Associate of Science (A.S.) plan and a certificate program that focuses on the basics. Online HVACR programs may be absent from the catalog here, but the certificate program is offered in the evenings for students who need some flexibility.
Formed as the result of a 2008 merger between two established technical schools, Georgia Northwestern Technical College educates roughly 5,800 students each semester. You might want to consider GNTC if you're hoping to keep your student debt to a minimum -- just one other school on our list reported a lower average amount of debt for its graduates.
HVACR programs at GNTC: The three HVACR certificates on offer at GNTC can help you get started on your career in a hurry. Air conditioning students here can train to become an electrical technician, systems maintenance technician or technician assistant in just one semester of full-time study. A 51-credit diploma program covers all the skills taught in the certificate plans and adds training in heat systems and troubleshooting.
San Jacinto Technical College is one of the largest institutions on our list, welcoming more than 32,000 students through its doors in 2018. What's more, NCES numbers show that alumni tend to find gainful employment that allows them to erase their college debt. Just one other school on our list reported a higher percentage of graduates who paid off their student loans in three years or less.
HVACR programs at San Jac: Programs here are designed to train both residential and commercial HVACR techs. Students of both disciplines can choose to pursue a 16-credit occupational certificate, a 60-credit associate degree or a certificate of technology that takes 32-36 credits to complete. Advanced commercial HVACR students can also enroll a 45-credit advanced certificate program.
Two area schools merged in 2012 to create Central Georgia Technical College, which serves an 11-county region southeast of Atlanta. Along with its flagship location in Warner Robins, the institution maintains full-service campuses in Macon and Milledgeville. Only one other school on our list set aside more of its annual budget per student to support academic services like instructional development and career counseling.
HVACR programs at CGTC: The diploma program in air conditioning technology at CGTC requires 51 credits of study to complete, with about 85 percent of courses covering subjects like heat pumps, refrigeration principles and HVACR electrical components. Certificate programs for entry-level HVACR specializations such as technician assistant, electrical technician and residential air conditioning technician are also available.
Southern Crescent Technical College maintains two regional campuses and three county centers to serve its roughly 5,000 students, and it's one of the most affordable HVACR schools in the country in terms of debt load. Graduates here reported a median student loan debt of less than $3,200, which was more affordable than just four other schools out of the nearly 350 that we looked at for this study.
HVACR programs at SCTC: Six certificates, a diploma program and an associate degree in air conditioning technology are offered at SCTC. HVACR specializations for certificate students include system maintenance technician, repair specialist and heating and air conditioning installation technician. All programs contain pathways to at least one HVACR certification.
In-state students at Wayne Community College paid an annual average of just over $2,500 in tuition and fees during 2018-19, making this east-central North Carolina school the most affordable institution on our list. It also sets aside a greater portion of its budget for academic support expenses than any other school in our top ten, and it boasts a better retention rate than all but one of our best HVACR schools.
HVACR programs at WCC: Certificate students can choose from three HVACR specializations at WCC -- heating technology, comfort cooling and heat pumps -- and the 43-credit diploma program offers a relatively short path to comprehensive HVACR training. Area high school students can take advantage of no-tuition, dual-enrollment Career and College Promise (CCP) programs in HVACR technology.
Charter College is a private, for-profit institution that operates in Alaska, California, Montana, New Mexico and Washington. It's the top HVACR school in the country in terms of online flexibility, reporting that nearly 93 percent of enrolled students in 2018 took at least some of their courses through distance education. Charter College also spends our list's second-largest raw dollar amount per student on academic support services.
HVACR programs at Charter College: Blended learning, an educational method that incorporates some online courses and some traditional classroom work, helps make the HVACR diploma at Charter College some of the more flexible options on our list. The partially online HVACR program covers topics like system troubleshooting, maintenance skills and environmental systems.
HVACR Training Programs and Common Career Paths
HVACR degrees and certificate plans teach you skills that enjoy near-constant demand, particularly in regions of the country with high humidity or a long, hot summer. Here's some info about common degrees and career paths for HVACR graduates:
HVACR Program Accreditation
In order to earn HVACR program accreditation, an institution must demonstrate that its curriculum and facilities meet or exceed a national standard set by a council of industry representatives. Students can be confident that an accredited training program will prepare them effectively for the HVACR career market.
Most schools that offer HVACR degrees are accredited by the following agencies:
Career Outlook for HVAC
Knowing what to expect from the career market once you graduate can help you take the stress of the inevitable job search in stride. Check out these employment projections for careers that typically employ graduates of HVAC degree programs.
PROJECTED JOB GROWTH(%)
|Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers||$51,420||342,040||12.6%|
Financial Aid and Scholarships in HVAC
Many of the scholarships available for aspiring HVAC students are offered at the regional or institutional level, but some programs, such as those administered by the Nexstar Legacy Foundation, are open to all qualifying students nationwide. Here's a list of a few financial aid options that might be able to help you pursue your HVAC degree.
To be included in these rankings, all schools must meet the following initial criteria for the specific subject being ranked.
- Offer a degree or certificate program in that subject
- Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in the most recent year of IPEDS data available.
Based on those criteria, we ranked all 2-year and 4-year schools in IPEDS that reported data for all of the following points:
- In-state undergraduate tuition & fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Median debt of completers, College Scorecard, 2017
- 3-year loan repayment rate, College Scorecard, 2017
- Graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Full-time retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Institutional spending, based on two equally weighted factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Instructional and academic support expenses per full-time enrolled student
- Instructional and academic support spending as a percentage of all expenses
Flexibility, based on the following factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Percent of students enrolled fully or partly in distance education
- Whether the school offers programs that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
- Whether the school offers academic and career counseling
- Size of program, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2016-17 were in this particular subject, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017