Central Oregon Community College has many different degree options, but there’s only one that sends students up into the air in the cockpit of a plane within their second week of attendance: the aviation program.
COCC’s aviation program was started in 2005, by the program’s current coordinator, John Miller.
Originally, this associative applied science degree program only offered airplane flight instruction, but there is now a helicopter option as well, which began in 2007.
According to Miller, the program has attracted a lot of students since it first began. Before the recession the program had about 180 students, but after the economy declined the numbers decreased due to the high cost of the program.
“That’s the big problem, that it’s expensive,” said Miller.
However, for some students the issue of cost to get through the program is no longer an issue. There’s a new GI bill that states that anyone who has three or more years of active duty in the military since 9/11 qualifies for assistance that pays for their admission and fees as well as issues about $1000 for books and a housing allowance that is usually around $1,206 a month. Miller said that about half of the current 165 students enrolled in the program use these benefits.
Even though the program is expensive, according to Miller it’s worth it to both the community and the students.
“If you figure for every 10 students we have we’re bringing a million dollars in the economy while they’re here. And our students are getting jobs,” said Miller.
While students in the aviation program are working to get their degrees, they’re also working with flight instructors so they can earn the certificates needed to get a job in the aviation industry.
“The fact that they work with the flight providers and the college to provide a certificate and degree at the same time is invaluable. You need both to get a job,” said Heidi McBride, a student in the aviation program.
In order to ensure that students can get the training they need, the program contracts with three companies in Central Oregon for flight training; these companies are Leading Edge aviation for helicopter flight training and Butler Aircraft and Professional air for airplane flight training.
“They’re quite busy,” said Miller. “They have to take the normal academic learning classes, and then the flight school.”
According to Miller, one of the highest points about the program is that students leave it prepared to enter the work force. Most commonly, graduated students will get jobs as flight instructors, as that gives them the experience needed to be marketed in other areas of the aviation industry.
“Several students have gotten jobs in the oil field industry, starting at $60,000 a year after two years as an instructor,” said Miller.
Miller said that some students even have companies waiting with the intent to hire them when they graduate.
However, McBride said she didn’t feel too confident about her ability to get a job right after graduating.
“The job field is very competitive,” said McBride, who went on to say that with the amount of flight hours students walk away with after graduating really only gives them one option, and that is to be a flight instructor.
“We have to pay our dues before we become marketable,” said McBride.
Even if she doesn’t get a high paying job right after graduating, McBride said that she is pleased with her decision to enter into aviation, and that it’s a “spectacular” program.
“It will probably be difficult to get a job… but most people don’t go into aviation for the paycheck, they go because they love to fly,” said McBride.
Miller, however, is confident in both the program’s ability to prepare students for the work force, and the work force’s ability to meet those students with ready jobs.
“As the economy improves we’re expecting a shortage of pilots in the aviation world. It’s a good career with a lot of promise,” said Miller.
Cedar Goslin can be reached at Cgoslin@cocc.edu