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Selkirk College to overhaul air program

Many other institutions are competing with Selkirk College, whose facility is shown above. - Castlegar News
Many other institutions are competing with Selkirk College, whose facility is shown above.
— image credit: Castlegar News

CASTLEGAR – In order to provide time to explore options and build a more sustainable program, Selkirk College has made the decision to suspend the Professional Aviation Program first-year intake for the 2014-15 school year.

Despite its mantle as the oldest and one of the best college professional pilot programs in Canada, the Selkirk program has experienced challenges for the past decade. Foremost among these are low enrolments, higher costs and dramatically increased competition from other public colleges and universities. This past fall, college faculty and administrators embarked on a detailed review of the program that highlighted many factors contributing to the challenges the program is currently facing.

“The Aviation Program is very important to Selkirk College,” says Neil Coburn, Vice President Education and Students. “The high quality and reputation of this program made this a difficult decision, but with declining enrolments it became clear that it was not fiscally possible to continue under the current model. Our plan is to continue the renewal process and identify opportunities that are sustainable. The goal is a quality Professional Aviation Program that is supported by industry and is able to attract a greater number of students.”

The Aviation Program is an intensive two-year flight training diploma program that provides students with the necessary tools to succeed in a technology driven and highly professional environment. Based out of the Castlegar Airport, the program has been in operation since 1968. Graduates of the program are fully qualified to enter the industry as Group 1 Instrument Rating for commercial pilots. The total cost for students is approximately $50,000 for the two-year program.

Year two will continue to be offered in 2014-15 in order to allow the three students currently in the first year to complete their diploma.

In recent years, the Selkirk program has experienced a downward trend in enrolment. Impacts of the changing aviation industry, student demographics, and the impact of increased numbers of aviation programs within the post-secondary system in BC and nationally are some of the obstacles contributing to the drop in enrolment. For example, in 1968 Selkirk had the only aviation program in a public college or university in Canada. Today there are competing programs—some as private-public partnerships—at several institutions in southern BC and Western Canada.

“If we don’t have the students, we unfortunately don’t have a sustainable program,” says Rhonda Schmitz, the Selkirk Dean responsible for the Professional Aviation Program. “The cost to deliver this program with the equipment and technology required is significant. We need to explore emerging ideas in order to improve enrolment and retention.”

Over the next few months Selkirk College will be working on creating a stronger program. There will be consultation with industry and a review of curriculum and programming aimed at attracting more applicants and increasing enrolments, meeting the interests and needs of students, and linking those with emerging opportunities for graduates in the aviation sector. Reconnecting with the aviation industry, creating new partnerships and integrating marketing initiatives will also be a priority.

“The graduates we provide to the aviation industry, our faculty and the facility we have at the Castlegar Airport are a source of pride for our college and our community,” says Schmitz. “We don’t want this to be the end, but rather a new beginning. We are looking forward to finding solutions to these challenges and will need the support of industry and the community.”

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