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Despite high costs, UND's aviation degree single-most popular program

Student Abby Jarve takes a seat Thursday in a Piper Archer TX airplane at UND's John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. Jarve, a third-year student, said she wasn't interested in flying until she attended an aviation-themed high school. Though a flight degree doesn't come cheap, Jarve believes the studies at UND are a good deal for the field. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)1 / 2
UND students and instructors run through flight checklists Thursday before taking off in Piper Archer TX and Cessna 172 airplanes at the UND John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. The aviation department remains one of the university's most popular areas among students. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)2 / 2

It wasn't until she went to high school that Abby Jarve really took flight — in the literal sense.

The timing for Jarve, now a junior studying aviation at UND, was no coincidence. Her preparatory schooling before winging to North Dakota took place at the Seattle-area Raisbeck Aviation High School, an academic institution with an aeronautical streak.

"I was pretty lucky to go there, it's a really good high school," she said.

Jarve said she "had no interest" in piloting aircraft before that high school immersion. She's now pursuing a double major in commercial fixed-wing aircraft and aviation management, both offered through the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences at UND.

The fixed-wing program, a traditional route to becoming a commercial pilot, is the most popular degree offered in the aviation department. According to Ken Polovitz, an assistant dean of the school, the program is also the single-most popular major on campus with about 800 students either currently in the major or having indicated interest in joining the program as an undergraduate. He estimated two-thirds of the program's students aspire to be professional pilots.

As one could imagine, the degree involves considerable air time, the price tag for which isn't cheap. Flight costs for the fixed-wing program are about $63,470, a sum taken in addition to the usual costs associated with being a student at UND, such as tuition, fees, room and board.

Between her two majors, Jarve's total flight costs add up to more than $108,000.

"Obviously, it's a lot," Jarve said, "But I think it's expected when you're going into aviation. I don't think anyone goes into this thinking it's going to be a cheap thing."

'Super cheap'

She had looked at other programs besides UND when applying for college but was won over by what she described as "super cheap" rates for base tuition and a more traditional university feel than what might be found at more aviation-specific institutions. Moreover, she said, the rates for actually flying the planes compared favorably for North Dakota when held against the rental fees back home in the Seattle area.

In light of the steep costs associated with flying, Polovitz said his office is "very up-front about what it's going to cost" to obtain a degree in aviation.

Program costs vary depending on the training students choose to pursue.

The least expensive program is the airport management track, which is offered as a bachelor of business administration degree and runs students about $5,270 in flight costs. The most expensive is the commercial helicopter degree, which comes with $86,975 in costs and currently has about 50 students.

Overall, Polovitz said, the aviation costs at UND represent some of the "best values of college aviation" when taking into account the quality of the fleet of aircraft coupled with low rates for tuition and cost of living. Even still, he acknowledged the degree costs can be heavy and said the school's leaders want to make sure students understand what they're working with.

"There are three things before you start the course that you need to know," Polovitz said, ticking through the main questions before answering them himself. "One, what does it cost — we can go through that. Second, is there good value in that? They'll find out there's good value. Third, how are you going to pay for it? All of our majors, all seven of them, require flying, but some require a lot more than others, so that's reflected in the costs."

Teaching first

Polovitz said students commonly find their first major employment as flight instructors, a position where they can gain professional experience and flight hours while earning back some of their education costs. Jarve said her current hope is to stay on at UND after graduation to work for a time as an instructor.

In general, she felt optimistic about her future prospects.

"With the industry right now, we can't keep our flight instructors because they keep getting hired (elsewhere)," Jarve said. "I don't think I'll have a problem getting hired by the university."

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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