There is much to like about the new aviation pilot program introduced last week by Rochester Community & Technical College.
First, the program fills an anticipated need for pilots at all levels of aviation.
Second, it gives students an opportunity to connect classroom learning with the kind of hands-on training that so many employers say they want.
And third, it shows RCTC has its eyes and ears tuned to student and industry needs, and is ready to put in place programs to fit those needs. That’s a large part of what community college education should be about.
Being a pilot would seem like interesting, often exciting and sometimes glamorous work. Despite that, the aviation industry is anticipating a rather large shortage of pilots in the coming decades. As in some other industries, a wave of retirements among baby boomer-age pilots is already underway, and is expected to accelerate.
At the same time, there is more demand for pilots, whether to fly airliners or single-prop planes.
That combination — retirements plus demand — has everyone in the aviation industry concerned about training and hiring more pilots.
“The pilot shortage is being felt by every airline,” said RCTC President Jeffrey Boyd, in announcing the Aviation Pilot Associate of Applied Science program.
So, when RCTC officials said last year they were looking at starting a pilot-training program, the positive feedback, from students and industry officials alike, was immediate. As a result, the first class of 24 students will begin studies this coming fall.
But this is not just an ivory-tower program. Making use of partnerships with Great Planes Aviation and Rochester International Airport, RCTC has developed a 60-credit program that will train students at the two-year level, and allow them to transfer to a four-year program.
It’s an expensive undertaking for RCTC, and the cost to students — $70,000 — bears that out. But if industry experts are correct, students will be able to leverage their skills into career-long employment at six-figure salaries.
We don’t mean to imply that education is only about getting a job and earning a relatively high salary. As with all education endeavors, part of the goal is to produce self-confident citizens who can use their knowledge and gifts to contribute to society.
Flying an airplane is a skill not many people have acquired. More will have that skill in the future, thanks to RCTC’s ability to make use of community partnerships, anticipate the needs of industry and students, and bring innovative programs to southeastern Minnesota.
We join the entire region in supporting the launch of this new aviation program at RCTC.