Case studies show that businesses which are able to adapt to market needs survive and thrive. Blockbuster didn’t anticipate the impact of online streaming video, lost market share and filed for bankruptcy. Borders didn’t fully anticipate the impact of e-commerce and electronic books, and also filed for bankruptcy and liquidated its U.S. stores. Like corporations, colleges must adapt in order to remain relevant in a tough economy. San Jacinto College is doing just that with its aviation and aeronautics curriculum at the central campus in Pasadena.
San Jacinto Community College is one of less than a handful of schools in the region offering an aviation and aeronautics curriculum. Earlier this year, the school’s advisory board recommended to Transportation Department Chair Mark Deschner and school leadership that the program focus on helping meet employee pipeline needs for the region and graduating students who leave the campus fully prepared to assume professional careers in aviation. This fall, students will enroll in one of two areas – Pilot Development or Aviation Management – a culling of four divisions, which had included Aviation Maintenance Management and Aircraft Dispatch.
Data showing that 200,000 regional aerospace workers will retire this year – a trend reflected nationally – partly drove the recommendation. The Aerospace Industries Association, which represents aircraft manufacturers and suppliers, sounded the alarm as early as 2008 about a national aging aerospace industry.
“The view was that (San Jacinto) needed to create a pipeline to backfill these jobs as people enter retirement,” Deschner said. “The changes reflect changes in the industry.”
Pilot Development has about 150 students, with Aviation Management ranging from 30-60 students. The pilot program prepares students for FAA certification as a private, instrument, commercial and multiengine pilots. Students undergo scenario-based training using some of the most advanced simulators and aircraft. They also learn risk-management and operational skills to successfully pilot planes in the National Airspace System.
“Our goal is to have students ready to go to work someplace with all certifications and FAA requirements met,” Deschner said.
The two-year Aviation Management program provides students with a broad education in general business, management and marketing, with an emphasis on how these areas apply to current aviation industry challenges. Students examine everything from flight theory and meteorology to business law and human resources. Aviation Management also draws students who want to stay in the aeronautics industry but have not been able to obtain their commercial pilots certification due to health or other barriers.
Students in the programs generally are “older than average – somewhere in their 20s,” Deschner said. Almost three-fourths of students come to the program via Veteran Affairs, as San Jacinto is one of the approved community colleges that accepts VA funding. Many of these students come to San Jacinto with some flight training from the military but need additional training and certification to be able to work professionally in the aeronautics industry.
Most of the “referrals” through VA have been informal, word-of-mouth, though Deschner hopes the school will do more formal outreach in the future.
“I’m a vet and we’re trying to get that news out,” he said. “Fortunately much of (our success) has been word-of-mouth, and we have a decent reputation in the VA community.”
The school strives to provide students with the latest in technology and equipment. It recently applied for and received a Perkins Grant through the U.S. Department of Education to purchase an $85,000 flight simulator, providing students with hands-on experience with the type of advanced equipment they will encounter as professionals.
Deschner said the program is able to invest in the latest technology and teaching because it contracts with external vendors so it doesn’t have to invest in the purchase or maintenance of the aircraft equipment students use in the program.
Students who complete the two-year program often apply that toward a four-year bachelor’s degree through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which has a Houston-area campus off Space Center Boulevard (our next school profile in the series).
With approximately 300 airports open to the public, Texas’ general aviation airport system is one of the largest in the nation, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. According to a 2010 economic impact study, the Houston Airport System supports more than 230,000 regional jobs and contributes more than $27 billion to the local economy.