Mercer County Community College’s Board of Trustees along with the President and Vice President made the decision to stop accepting new students into the Aviation Technology program and are currently in the process of deciding whether or not to continue it.
Dr. Guy Generals, Vice President for Student and Academic Affairs, stated in an interview with the VOICE that there were financial issues with the current program. He said that students’ tuition does not fully cover the cost of fuel, expensive maintenance procedures, airport fees, and other necessary expenses. “The program looses a lot of money every year… the college winds up picking up anywhere between $300 and $400,000 a year,” Generals said.
Dr. Generals added, ”Educationally [Aviation] is a sound program, but it has a high attrition rate. Students drop out regularly. So when you look at these traditional academic measures, you know, we decided we have to improve it considerably or teach it out; terminate it.”
“I really feel bad for the new kids, I was in their shoes at one point. When I started here they were not sure [Mercer] was going to keep [Aviation],” said Chris Moyers, a third year Private Pilot in the program.
The college is considering the option of outsourcing key functions of the Aviation program to Royal Karina Air Service, a flight training school located at Trenton Mercer Airport. This is currently the only alternative the college has to keep the Aviation program alive. Outsourcing the flight training to Royal Karina “would reduce the deficit that’s involved by a huge amount,” said Mercer’s Aviation Technology Program Coordinator, Joan Jones.
The County College of Morris also offers an aviation program but due to the fees associated with the aviation industry has always outsourced flight training and has never owned aircrafts. “Owning airplanes is not cheap any way you look at it,” said Venancio L. Fuentes, Department Chair of Engineering Technology/Engineering Science at the County College of Morris.
“All of the costs associated with the flight training would be absorbed by Royal Karina,” said Moses Frenck, President of Royal Karina Air Service about the proposal.
As the administrators review the Royal Karina option the Aviation Technology Program has suspended recruitment for a minimum of six months.
“Until January we will not take any new students until we’ve gone though the process of due diligence to ensure the integrity of the company and if not we’ll teach it out, permanently,” said Dr. Generals. The college is reviewing whether Royal Karina is stable financially and has adequate resources such as equipment and instructors that meet the needs of current students as well as room for potential growth.
According to Dr. Generals students already enrolled in the program will be unaffected if the program terminates.
“We’re bound by law to continue for those students who are in the core part of the program…we stopped enrolling new students with the focus of trying to determine whether or not we want to continue the program as well as make sure the ones that are in there get the attention they need,” said Dr. Generals.
“When I see an opportunity like this on the verge of being extinguished I can’t describe how bad I feel and I can’t describe how desperately I hope that it will go on,” said Jerry Kuhl, Aviation Management Coordinator at Mercer.