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Ozarka College’s new aviaton program preparing to take flight

By Angela Spencer

This article was published June 1, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.


Dennis Rittle, provost and executive vice president of learning at Ozarka College in Melbourne, talks about the new aviation program at the school that is in the planning stage. He is a former member of the U.S. Air Force.

MELBOURNE — It has been said that education helps students soar to new heights, but that saying will take on a literal meaning at Ozarka College, starting in the 2015 fall semester.

Ozarka College is on its way to offering an Associate of Science degree in aviation, giving students the training to fly a single-engine aircraft and the qualification to take pilot credentialing exams. The program will include aviation-specific instruction pertaining to design, performance, flight systems, controls, flight-crew operations, radio communications, navigation procedures, navigation systems, airway safety regulations, airway traffic regulations, and governmental rules and regulations.

After the two-year program at Ozarka, students will have the opportunity to transfer seamlessly into a Bachelor of Science degree program in aviation at Henderson State University.

Ozarka President Richard Dawe’s first career was as a naval aviator, and he is still active in local aviation. He said that while his interests did not sway the school’s decision to pursue an aviation program, his insight has been helpful in realizing the potential impact the program could have on northern Arkansas.

“Our program will provide the foundational training necessary for students to pursue many high-demand opportunities for exciting and high-paying careers in aviation,” he said. “We are fortunate that our board of trustees has the vision required to advance this innovative new program of study.”

Dawe said he believes students will gain confidence through this program as they achieve milestones in flight training.

“There is nothing quite like the first time you fly a plane solo, without an instructor as a backup,” he said.

Ozarka College’s main campus is in Melbourne, with additional locations in Ash Flat, Mammoth Spring and Mountain View. Dennis Rittle, Ozarka provost and executive vice president of learning, said the area has more small businesses than large industry, but aviation allows people in those areas to work with large industries in other parts of the state or country while being able to live in northern Arkansas.

“Helping our area become more robust economically, the aviation program is a true fit,” Rittle said, “and there’s a lot of interest in aviation.”

The college reached out to 14 area high schools to gauge interest in the program. Of all the juniors and seniors in those schools, 287 students said they had a significant interest or a high interest in being in an aviation program.

“You have industry need, you have student interest, and we have local expertise,” Rittle said.

Dawe said the opportunities for new pilots are extensive.

“Whether it is the dream of flying an airliner or corporate jet internationally, becoming a military pilot or becoming a flight instructor at a local airport, this is one of the very few careers that will allow you to ‘go to work,’ then return home, where you want to raise your families, without being required to relocate for your career goals,” he said.

The curriculum has already been written, and all elements needed to start the program are falling in place better than any program Rittle has worked to create, he said.

“A lot of things have really come together to form this amazing opportunity for us,” Rittle said. “Most programs, you may have a few things come together, but then you have some serious obstacles. This one, a lot of the stars have aligned here.”

The new program was approved by the college’s coordinating board on April 25. The program will be sent in for Higher Learning Commission approval in June and for Federal Aviation Administration approval by the end of the calendar year.

Aside from those approvals, college officials hope to name a director for the program this summer. Once he or she is brought on, the school will start the process of acquiring one or two training aircraft and a simulator machine.

Ozarka College has a lease agreement with the Melbourne Municipal Airport for hangar space, office space and meeting rooms where pilots might get briefings and debriefings.

When at the airport, students will be considered “at flight site,” where they will be expected to act and dress appropriately for flight.

“It will help with the mentality of being a pilot,” said Manda Jackson, Ozarka College director of public relations and marketing. “It’s kind of like becoming a teacher. You can do presentations all day long, but until you’re in the classroom with those students in front of you, you might not quite get into the mindset. That flight site will help students get into the right mentality.”

At the current tuition rate, the two-year Associate of Science degree in aviation would cost $10,800. The price includes tuition and fees, including in-air flying-instruction fees. Additionally, 57 percent of the classes could be completed online.

Start-up costs for the program have been provided and approved by the board. Rittle said that with a modest enrollment of students, the aviation program will easily break even and run in the black because of the relationship with the airport, internal talent and the partnership and help from Henderson State University, as well as the area’s low cost of living, which gives the college the ability to be competitive.

Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or


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