When Chancellor Rosenstone submitted his first MnSCU budget request, he said it focused “on educating more people for ‘high-demand, high-growth professions.’”
That’s a perfect-sounding soundbite but it’s spin, not reality.
When Earl Potter told the St. Cloud City Council that the Aviation program was “a fine program that we could no longer afford”, he sidestepped a bigger issue. This Time article cuts to the heart of the matter in its opening paragraphs:
Air travel can be torturous enough as it is, with delays, cancellations, lost luggage and expensive tickets, but experts warn that another problem looms on the horizon, threatening to further complicate the commercial airline experience: a pilot shortage. According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. airlines are on track to run out of pilots in the near future and are facing the most serious scarcity of trained aviators since the 1960s.
The paper reports that more than half of American pilots are over age 50, and there is a dearth of qualified candidates to fill the cockpits that will be left empty when they retire. The mandatory retirement age for pilots is 65 years old (extended from 60 in 2007), meaning that thousands are expected to leave their careers with no one to replace them, the Journal notes. While the profession saw a boom in new hires in the 1980s, significantly fewer have been hired in the last 10 years, thanks to a combination of tighter regulations, pay cuts and general economic turmoil.
It’s time to think of the ramifications of the conditions described in Time’s article. With the holiday season approaching, people will be faced with crowded airports, overbooked flights, longer delays and, potentially, disruptions of their travels.
Actually, air travellers know that that’s what air travel is like pretty much year round already. When I went to the RightOnline Conference in Las Vegas this summer, each of the flights was full. The jets were undersized, too.
Imagine what things will be like if this pilot shortage isn’t addressed. Airlines will shut down additional flights. Flight options will shrink dramatically. Service to so-called ‘second-tier cities’ will be canceled altogether because they can’t be staffed.
That isn’t speculation. That will be reality within the next 5-7 years. President Potter and Chancellor Rosenstone have the ability to change that by rescinding the decision to cancel the Aviation program at SCSU. It’s without question that SCSU can’t produce all of the graduates it’ll take to replace the soon-to-be-retiring pilots. Still, they’re capable of being a significant part of the solution.
In fact, I’d argue that it’s wise to change the trajectory of the Aviation program. Instead of shutting it down, they should be expanding the program to increase the number of flight maintenance workers available to regional airlines. There’s a shortage of them, too. Those classes could be offered by the St. Cloud Technical College.
If Chancellor Rosenstone is truly committed to educating more people for “‘high-demand, high-growth professions,’” he can start with telling President Potter to re-open SCSU’s Aviation program. There’s no arguing that an industry that’s facing its most severe shortage in a generation is a “high-demand” field.
It’s time for Chancellor Rosenstone and President Potter to stop playing games. They’re great at saying the right things. Now it’s time for them to start making better decisions that meet the various industries’ needs. If they don’t start making better decisions, students will rightfully start abandoning the universities for colleges that train them for these jobs.