Why time has run out for Saint Paul College's watchmaking program

What Saint Paul College once billed as the nation’s oldest watchmaking program is closing down, the college’s president confirmed late yesterday afternoon.

Rassoul Dastmozd did not elaborate, but wrote me an e-mail stating:

“The Saint Paul College Watchmaking Program ended this month following decreases in enrollment and continued funding challenges.  All students who remained in the program were able to complete the entire program.”

It seems like a sad end to a program that once seemed to be promising.

You may remember the piece MPR’s business editor, Bill Catlin, did on the program back in May 2003. Its title: Watchmakers: The New Dot-Commers.

That title alone is strong stuff. Program director Joe Juaire told him at the time:

“We’re seeing requests for employees in the neighborhood of 50 for every graduate that I have; or 50 placement offers, and they’re not all of them local. Some of them in fact are international, but this is a worldwide shortage.”

So what happened?

Officials there haven’t said, but I’ve asked Dastmozd to speak to me at length about it, and am hoping for a response.

A Nov. 30, 2010 e-mail to Catlin from Craig Anderson, the college’s VP for corporate, foundation and community relations, might shed a little light on the funding challenges.

In response to some questions from Catlin about the program, Anderson wrote:

We are delaying the start of a new incoming class until January 2012 predicated on securing additional outside financial support to replace the Rolex funding which ends as of June 30, 2011.

Rolex was financially supporting the program through the second of two five-year, $1 million grants to the college.  But Rolex withdrew its funding effective at the end of the third year.

In another note to Catlin, Anderson outlined the school’s plan in response to the Rolex decision:

The remaining Rolex funding will allow the current group of students to finish the second year of their program and graduate in December 2011.

The reason we have delayed the start of a new cohort this January is twofold.

One, only five students had registered so far but we need 12 to run the program and secondly, since the program is two years in length, assuming we did have 12 students (and we don’t) we would not have enough funding to finish their second year and graduate.  It would not be financially prudent on our part to incur a significant budget shortfall for this one program.

The vast majority of students in this program come from outside of Minnesota and need notification far earlier in the enrollment process than our traditional students.  They need to physically move here requiring notice to their current employers, sign leases etc.

Therefore, we made the decision to delay the start of a new section based upon the adverse financial impact that a new program start would have on the college in year two of the program without Rolex’s funding.

I am hopeful we can identify additional sources of funding by August 2011 which would allow us to start another section of 12 students in the fall.

Although the grant funding was supposed to run through June 30, 2013, Anderson gave Catlin this explanation for Rolex’ withdrawal:

“Yes, I would say that they did terminate early because their funds were limited. They are now supporting a new training certification called SAWTA that Rolex began to implement in early 2009 at the other two community colleges supported by Rolex. Our instructors to the best of my knowledge choose to stay with the WOSTEP certification and not the new standard Rolex has decided to support.”

Exactly why instructors chose to stick with the old certification and not follow the Rolex funding is unclear.

I hope to get some clarity today or tomorrow.

  • Guest
  • SAWTA just isn’t  what its promoted to be in Rolex’s ample press releases.  Also, the way they treat the schools is as their own private in-house training facilities.  These are publicly funded schools, and while many of the students attend on scholarship, there are also the paying students.  You can’t “fire” students, or treat them like employees, when they are paying to be present, have student rights, and otherwise behave badly.  Rolex is controlling programs that still belong to publicly funded institutions, and they ignore obligations to students.  The time and money sink their programs represent is feasible to only the most passionate, dedicated students.  You have to have the right combination of being practical and unrealistic to enter.  The working environment Rolex presents for students is stressful.  The investment is expensive, the training hours are work-prohibitive, and, well, they’re looking for any excuse to get rid of you.  Neither do they take feedback – or look to the splinter in their own eye.  Their SAWTA program is disorganized, and WOSTEP, tried and true, has them beat, even despite some of its drawbacks.  The Rolex SAWTA curriculum doesn’t work – but the organizers solution is to blame the students.  It’s not producing what it should, and what it promises.  This is why it still makes sense to go to a traditional watchmaking school in the United States, (as opposed to a ‘franchise’ school), and why Rolex programs are going to continue to struggle, be unsustainable without Rolex money, and be unattractive to the majority of students looking for new opportunities in the educational marketplace.  Rolex also has a conflict of interest, as it attempts to gain control of the American watchmaker educational environment.  Ethically, it doesn’t respect the investment of the student, and legally, its monopolizing, while its behavior is undermining not only itself, but the entire industry where North America is concerned.
    See JCK’s 2000 article, “Where have all the watchmakers gone?”
    JCK’s August 5, 2011 article, “European commission investigates watchmakers”

  • Aaron

    Dice – You are contradicting yourself in your comment. You claim Rolex destroys programs by the way they treat them, but without the funding Rolex gives them, they cease to exist. Seems to me that Rolex was generously keeping St. Paul open longer than it would have otherwise. Please do not post uninformed, bitter, emotion filled rants about “THE MAN” controlling the situation, when it was Rolex who never even had to give the money in the first place.