E-Degrees for AMTs
The GIGS and BYTES are flying, and a few aircraft technicians are reaping the rewards. Here's how to put that diploma in YOUR toolbox:
By Keith Jackson
Like it or not, a brave new world in higher learning has arrived: and not surprisingly, information technology is playing the lead role on the global stage. Gone are the days when earning a college degree meant living on a college campus, eating dormitory food and bunking with guys named after parts of the human body. Today, the ability to exchange information is the name of the game — as much as possible and as fast as one can get it.
This push for supreme efficiency has resulted in the advent of e-learning: Universities have realized that students can cover the same material and produce the same caliber of work online as they might in the classroom. This has opened doors for many professionals already out in the workforce and no longer in a position to ship off to the other side of the country to work on a college degree.
Simply put, technology has actually made pursuing a degree a whole lot easier. And with credit for the A&P license, you’re already halfway there. The protocol for procuring the ACE transcript and recommendation for 67 undergraduate credits was detailed by Bill O’Brien in "FAA Feedback" (AMT, May/June ’01). Once you have taken care of that process, it’s time, as they say, to go to school.
Trading pencils for pixels
The online format can be effective for several reasons; one of them is that in most cases, you can set the pace with regard as to how much you want to learn and when you want to learn it. Most virtual campuses are accessible 24-hours a day. And, taking classes online will allow you to network with other aviation professionals, creating contacts all over the world.
A "real-time" case study
A degree is the best way to improve salary status and future prospects for employment in whatever sector of the aviation industry. It can give you extra ammunition at the negotiating table or blast open the market for careers in management. Given the current shortage of instructors, it can create opportunities for those considering teaching as a step on the career path, as did Greg Mellema, an instructor with Abaris Training in Reno, NV.
Mellema is a prime example of a lifetime learner. An A&P and IA, he has been a mechanic for over 16 years. Mellema earned a B.S. degree in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and is currently working toward Master’s degrees in Aviation Safety and Aviation Management — all online.
Having spent so much time in the virtual classroom, Mellema has a pretty good idea of the pros and cons of e-learning. He feels that the immediacy of classroom interaction is a big part of the experience that you don’t get in the online environment. One must wait after posting a question or comment to the online classroom for a response from instructors and fellow students. So, if you need face-to-face interaction to get a handle on course material, you might struggle at first with online classes. However, this does not negate the possibility of success in this format. Mellema adds that he feels a positive of this type of learning is that one is able to better articulate a response in the online format than what might be given in a real-time classroom situation. Overall, the experience for him has been a favorable one.
Making a list
Following are some questions to ask yourself before embarking on your own e-journey.
• What area of study interests you?
• Are you a "self-directed" learner?
• What are your long and short-term goals?
• What can be done with this degree?
• How much time can you commit?
• What are the school’s requirements?
• How available are the instructors?
Think about why you want this degree, and keep that goal in mind when you start feeling overwhelmed, because you most certainly will at one point or another.
Financing your goal
Also think about how will you pay for this education. While the added convenience and time savings are considerable, the cost of e-learning is usually no different than on-campus instruction. Decide how you will handle this before you start. Are you willing to take out personal loans? Does your current employer offer tuition reimbursement? If so, find out if your chosen program falls within the company’s guidelines. Also, check into you financial aid eligibility. You can go to www.fafsa.ed.gov to fill out and submit (all online) the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The payback on a student loan is usually structured to make it as painless as possible — and better yet, you may even be eligible for a grant program. The FAA web site (www.faa.gov) also provides an extensive list of academies and universities offering programs of interest to aviation professionals, and a list of the many aviation education scholarships and grants available.
Where to go
After you’ve made the decision to go after a degree, there are also several questions you need to ask about prospective schools. Perhaps the most important of these is whether or not the school is accredited — this is your quality guarantee where curriculum and instruction are concerned. You can call the U.S. Department of Education (800-872-5327) for this information. Don’t spend your time and money on a "license" or "certificate" that may have little value in your job market.
Next, find out what kind of online degrees the school offers. Are you looking for a Bachelors? Associates? A Ph.D.? Match the degree you select with your professional goals. If you already have a specific job in mind, think about how much clout the degree will have in that field or with that particular employer.
At capellauniversity.com, you can click on the "About e-learning" link to take a short quiz, including questions similar to those above, that will help determine whether or not you might be successful working in this format. The link also provides a course demo and a forum called "Meet the Learners," providing advice from actual students attending capellauniversity. com. You can also check out the message board at Aerolearn. com for answers to questions, or to get involved in the discussion there. While Aerolearn.com is not a degree-granting institution, it does offer free courses online and links to valuable industry information.
Not going away
Thanks to the advent of e-learning, the career toolbox continues to expand. Technicians who once couldn’t think about college because of time and logistical challenges are now just a mouse click away from adding an advanced degree to that top drawer. So—what are you waiting for? One thing that might help you decide is to find a school or program you like and take a class in something that interests you — even if you aren’t looking to make a change right now, or complete a degree right away. This way, you can really find out if e-learning is a good fit without too much investment of time and money. But remember: job success today requires becoming a lifetime learner. Information technology is here to stay, and you can be sure that others in your field are taking advantage of it.