Polk State College’s Aerospace program will expand this fall to offer a new degree in Aerospace Administration, readying students for management positions at airports, airlines, and a wide variety of related operations.
Students who earn the Associate of Science in Aerospace Administration will receive a broad, business-based understanding of the aviation industry. Polk State is the only higher-education institution in the county to offer the degree.
“This is a business degree with an aviation focus,” said Polk State Aerospace Director Eric Crump. “It’s a great option for anyone who loves aviation but is also business-minded.”
Polk State Aerospace launched in January to offer an Associate of Science in Professional Pilot Science, preparing students for careers as pilots or flight instructors.
That program, in a departure from traditional pilot-training models, uses cutting-edge flight-simulation technology to augment students’ in-air instruction.
The Aerospace Administration degree builds on that innovation, Crump said, as it will go a long way in removing the divide between pilots and managers.
“We’re combining our professional pilot students with our management students, teaching them both simultaneously rather than in a vacuum,” Crump said. “Our professional pilot students will understand the management side, and the management students will understand the pilot side. Aviation is one big system and it’s important to know how each cog works together.”
Students in Aerospace Administration and Professional Pilot Science will be combined for courses including Foundations of Air Transportation, Aviation Meteorology and Automation Management, U.S. and International Aviation Operations, Safety Management Systems and Operational Risk Management, and Business Communications.
Additionally, students will be encouraged to take electives from the “other side” of aviation, Crump said.
Typically, Crump said, pilots and aviation managers are trained independently of one another.
The result for students — whether they’re aiming for the cockpit or the corner office — will be a more complete understanding of aviation.
Crump gave the example of Foundations of Air Transportation, in which students discuss the airline system and one of its historically pervasive issues — labor disputes.
A classic case study, Crump said, is Eastern Airlines, a now-defunct airline brought down in the early 1990s by an employee strike involving pilots, flight attendants and machinists.
“The pilots were saying, ‘we want more money,’ and the managers were saying ‘we want more money,’” Crump said. “There was bad management and bad labor relations.”
By combining future pilots and managers to discuss issues such as Eastern Airlines — as well as more current examples, such as the American-US Airways merger — all will garner a broader perspective on aviation and the various dynamics involved in the industry.
“This is real-world stuff that you can’t just learn out of a textbook,” Crump said.
Another hallmark of the new degree, Crump said, will be internship opportunities at airports, airlines and fixed-base operations across Central Florida; fixed-base operations are businesses that operate at an airport to provide a specific service, like fueling or flight instruction.
Students will have the option of doing an internship at the start of the program, rotating among various areas of aviation, and again later in the program, to concentrate on the area of their particular interest.
Members of Polk County’s aviation community have warmly received the expansion of Polk State Aerospace.
“If you look at the schools that offer this degree, they’re all private and more expensive,” said Lakeland Linder Regional Airport Director Gene Conrad.
“Polk State is providing an avenue for people who are interested in the field of aerospace administration but have been turned off by the cost of private schools.”
Polk State, at $110 per credit hour for Florida residents, is the county’s most affordable higher-education option.
Conrad said the new degree also offers a channel for those who love aviation but who, like him, don’t want to be pilots; Conrad holds a degree in Aviation Administration from Ohio State University. Plus, he added, just like the College’s Professional Pilot Science students, those studying Aerospace Administration will benefit from the wide variety of aviation operations — from airports to Fantasy of Flight — in Central Florida.
“Polk State students are going to get a lot of real-world exposure and hands-on experience that will bring it all to life on a daily basis,” he said.
Conrad said he looks forward to offering internships to Aerospace Administration students.
“This is a specific field and not many people are going into it. You can teach anybody anything, but if people actually study that field, you know right off the bat they are interested in it,” he said.
Also pleased by the addition of the new degree is Ricardo Garcia, owner and operator of Gulf Coast Avionics and a Polk State District Board of Trustees member who also serves on the advisory board of the Central Florida Aerospace Academy (CFAA).
“There’s a great need for this degree in our area,” Garcia said. “CFAA is graduating 75 to 100 students each school year, and now, they have local option for pursuing their careers in aviation — whether they want to be on the pilot side or the business side.”
Garcia described the new degree as the missing piece in Polk State’s Aerospace program.
Polk State Vice President for Academic and Student Services Kenneth Ross said the Aerospace Administration degree nicely complements the College’s other business offerings, but because of the nature of aviation, having a new degree focused on the field only makes sense.
“The field of Aerospace Administration is wide and varied. You could earn this degree and go on to work in management at an airport, an airline, or a vast array of other aviation-related businesses,” he said.
“With this degree, we’re offering students a path to enter aerospace administration, and putting all the opportunities of the field within their reach.”
Registration for the fall semester at Polk State is currently underway.
Polk State’s business programs include Accounting Technology, Business Administration, the Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management, Business Operational Management, Entrepreneurship, and Supply Chain Management.