A small, liberal arts college in Wisconsin, Lakeland College, recently announced plans to launch a four-year undergraduate minor in aviation.
The program will begin in the fall semester and consists of 31 credit hours of work. The required course work includes ground school classroom instruction and flight instruction at Sheboygan County Memorial Airport or Austin Straubel International Airport.
Lakeland and Frontline Aviation, based in Green Bay, partnered to create the program, which is the first of its kind in Wisconsin. While the partnership does come at a down time, experts are predicting an upswing in aviation jobs for which graduates of such programs will be perfectly positioned. The program at Lakeland is designed to provide students with the education and flying skills required for those jobs. The program is also designed to allow area students to obtain their pilot ratings and a four-year degree without having to endure transferring from a smaller two-year school.
The commercial aviation sector has seen more than its share of job loss and pay cuts recently with pilots losing out in major airline mergers and flight schools closing because of rising insurance and training costs in the face of a reduction in applicants who can afford flight training. Fortunately, industry experts see light on the horizon. They are calling for a shortage of pilots in the next few years as the federally-mandated retirement catches up with many airline pilots.
Additionally, niche pilot careers like corporate charters or law enforcement aviation are starting to get more attention from schools. By combining a four-year degree in criminal justice and flight training, a student would be well positioned to pilot aircraft for a law enforcement agency like U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Unfortunately, cost is going to play a huge role in deciding the viability of the new program. Lakeland officials estimate that students will have to pay $27,000 for the program, which takes them up to their flight instructor certificate. Most of the program costs go to pay for aircraft rental which is about $125 per hour at Frontline Aviation.
The bottom line is that Lakeland students now have one of the most affordable flight training programs at their disposal. They will graduate with a four-year degree ready to move into a flight instructing or entry-level commercial flying job. Within a short amount of time they could be well on their way to an ATP rating and the right seat of a commercial airliner as hiring increases at the airlines.