As students go about their day begrudging their undergraduate course loads and dreading repaying their STUDENT LOAN interest for book, tuition and living expenses, they should remember to
be thankful for one thing: that they are not an aviation major.
While an academic institution such as Western Michigan University offers 141 or so academic programs to its undergraduate population, with differing credit hour requirements leading to higher and lower costs in terms of book and lab fees and a fluctuating total educational gross, aviation majors have it worst when it comes to pound for pound expenses.
"I would agree that aviation majors carry the highest costs here," said Barbara McKinney, a WMU registrar. "Other than that area, I don't know of any undergraduate majors here that carry a substantially higher cost than others."
In-state tuition at WMU for junior and senior students for the 2007-2008 academic year runs at $242.03 per credit hour. A full-time student, taking between 12 and 16 credit hours per semester, is charged a flat fee of $3,630 if he or she is in-state.
While it's obvious that the total collegiate expenses of a student with a major that requires less per-hour coursework would be less financially burdensome, the gap in terms of the final costs of the degrees is of little consequence because both majors are still paying roughly the same amount of money per credit hour. What really makes a difference is the extra costs attached to the major.
While most majors are paying out an average of $250 or so per credit hour in tuition costs, flight science majors are required to pay for a number of costs most other majors don't even have to consider.
"As a flight science major you do have to pay for gas [for the plane], instructors, equipment (headset, charts, etc.), plane rental and gas to get to and from Battle Creek, in addition to the check rides, FAA tests and tuition, plus books," said Tyler Smith, 20, a WMU aviation maintenance technology major who is also in the Army National Guard.
In fact, when all is said and done, aviation flight science majors can expect to pay a bare minimum of $41,348.40 in additional expenses through the end of their undergraduate education, according to the 2007 WMU
College of Aviation fee chart. And it's important to remember that this is a minimum cost. Depending on the type of aircraft flown, as well as instructor and fuel costs, the number can easily reach close to $300 per hour of flight instruction.
Smith said that even as an aviation maintenance major the costs are significant, as students are responsible to pay for things like tools. The lab fees alone for the required aviation maintenance technology major courses add an additional $1100 to the bill.
"It's not cheap," he said.
To make it worse, the stereotype that aviation majors are more than compensated with higher salaries after graduation is flawed. The average starting salary for an aviation flight science major is $23,819, according to the 2007-2008 WMU Career Search Manual.
However, before eliciting too much pity on the aviation major's account, it should be noted that the pay rises exponentially with experience. The median expected salary for a typical Aircraft Maintenance Manager I with 7-10 years experience in the United States, is $95,397, while the median expected salary for a typical Captain/Pilot in Command (Small Jet), for instance, with a minimum of 5,000 hours of flight experience in the United States is $100,929, according to the salary center at monster.com.
The median expected salary for a typical editor in the United States is $52,264.