Three years after Auburn University’s aviation program was slated for potential cancellation, moves are now being made to fortify the course of study to make it stronger than ever.
Earlier this week, Auburn University announced an ongoing exploratory initiative that could move Auburn’s aviation degree programs from the Harbert College of Business to the University College, a move that could provide more opportunities for students that appeal to diverse interests and facilitate the path to obtaining a degree.
According to Dr. Bill Hutto, Director of the Auburn University Regional Airport and Aviation Center, the potential move is not being proposed in opposition to the College of Business, but rather, was spurred by FAA and aviation regulation changes in the past few years requiring that a person obtain 1,500 flight hours before he or she can become a commercial pilot.
“There was not a limit before that,” Hutto said. “Before that, they were hiring, you know, the industry from time to time will ebb and flow, but they were hiring sometimes pilots at 3 and 400 hours. But as a result of that, Congress passed a law and said you have to have 1,500 hours.”
Along with the 1,500 flight hours, legislation now also states that if a student has 30 hours of FAA-approved coursework, the number can be reduced to 1,250 hours for university students as opposed to 1,500. If a student has completed 60 hours of coursework, it can go down to 1,000 required hours.
“Now the challenge that we have in our current structure in the College of Business, and again, it’s not a criticism, but in addition to the university 42-hour core curriculum, they have a core curriculum as well that’s 33 hours for all College of Business students have to take,” Hutto explained. “Well, from an aviation standpoint, that’s kind of a chokepoint, because we can’t get the students enough aviation courses to get to the 60 hours.”
Rather than requiring the 33 hours of core curriculum for the College of Business, Hutto said the University College would allow for a broader base of aviation class offerings and allow for more flexibility to pursue various minor degrees.
“So we’ll have a university core of 42 hours, an aviation core classes of 45 hours, and then the professional flight students will then focus on their flight ratings—their classes that are on the books,” Hutto said. “And the aviation management students can choose, for example, you can get a business minor or public admin minor or marketing minor or journalism or whatever the case is and tailor their degree to what their interests are.
“Like in aviation, in the airport world that I’m familiar with, knowing something about government’s kind of important, so somebody interested in working for the FAA or the state government or the airports in the public sector in some way can take public admin as a minor, so it just, the move creates many opportunities for students to be able to chose a path that suits their personal preferences while giving them a strong base of aviation knowledge,” he continued.
Conversely, if a student still wants to obtain a business degree and minor in an aviation-related field, that option will still be available.
“And the other thing I think moving to the University College will give us the ability to do is change as we need to change more easily,” Hutto said. “Like if the FAA comes in with another rule, where the unmanned aircraft systems or whether it’s a manned flight or whatever, we can tweak the curriculum a little bit easier.”
Jason Mohrman, Auburn aviation alumnus and captain for United Airlines in Newark, N.J., expressed that he and other program alumni are thrilled at the prospect of moving aviation degree programs to the University College.
“We’re very, very enthusiastic about the tremendous opportunities here with the moving the program underneath the provosts office just has exponential potential really,” Mohrman said. “We really feel they’ll have the proper leadership, resources and support that we’ve really longed for to have that kind of direct relationship under the provost’s office.”
Auburn’s aviation programs moved from the aerospace engineering umbrella to the College of Business in 1999.
“We’ve just kind of struggled in engineering and business in just trying to find the right fit,” Mohrman said. “Here, I just think there are so many opportunities to expand the program and enlarge it and offer even more programs with that direct leadership, so that’s really, really positive.”
Mohrman and fellow Auburn aviation alumnus Lee Mills co-led an alumni-driven effort to rally support for the program three years ago when there was talk of discontinuing it or moving it elsewhere.
“It took an extraordinary effort of about 4,000 alumni and industry leaders and students from all over and government officials, state, federal and local to really rally support and get things redirected, and that was obviously very successful,” Mohrman said. “And then it was kind of a matter of OK, where can the program go, where can it grow and where will it fit in.”
Now, the consensus among those individuals is that the University College will be the right home for the program.
“Everything (will be) under one house so to speak,” Mohrman said. “So you’ll have the aviation academic side and the professional side of flight instruction and flight training all together. That just makes it very helpful for recruiting and corporate partnerships and everything.”
Also last week, Auburn University announced that it would be partnering with the Alabama Community College System on its aviation degree programs to benefit both students and the state economy.
Both Hutto and Mohrman said the proposed move to the University College will facilitate community college students transferring to Auburn University’s aviation program.
“The College of Business core was a challenge for some of the two-year students that get here, then they have to do that core before they get into aviation,” Hutto said. “The university core, a lot of that they can take care of in the two-year system, and then when they get to Auburn they can jump right into the aviation.”
Funding has also been approved for a new aviation education center to be built at the Auburn University Regional Airport.
“You think about where it’s gone from getting rid of (the program) to getting saved to where is it going to go, to the aviation center, now this and the two-year plan—we couldn’t be happier,” Mohrman said.
Hutto said that the earliest the move would be implemented would be fall of 2017, considering it is approved by the Board of Trustees in the fall.