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Marshall University Old Main exterior

HUNTINGTON - During its summer meeting in Glade Springs, West Virginia, on Friday, the Marshall University Board of Governors will vote on whether to approve four "intents to plan" for new degree programs, including a new School of Aviation.

The School of Aviation will offer two new baccalaureate degrees: aviation science - fixed-wing (airplanes) and aviation science - rotor-wing (helicopter). The programs will follow Federal Aviation Administration guidelines and produce FAA-certified commercial pilots.

Marshall is partnering with Southern Utah University to offer the program, which the proposal says has several benefits. The biggest benefit will be to students, as Marshall will share Southern Utah's already established flight school's certification. That means students will be eligible for commercial pilot licensure with fewer flight hours, thus reducing program costs for students, according to the proposal.

SUU also will assume the financial costs of operating the rotor-wing program. Although Marshall will employ the faculty teaching in the program, SUU will assume financial responsibility for all the full- and part-time faculty and staff associated with the rotor-wing program. SUU also will supply and maintain the fleet of helicopters.

Marshall and Southern Utah also will have a joint recruiting campaign, with Marshall focusing on recent high school graduates, veterans and adults looking for a career change in the eastern portion of the country.

Southern Utah University, located in Cedar City, Utah, enrolls around 300 students between its rotor-wing and fixed-wing programs.

Both programs will be taught at Marshall's South Charleston campus, with online offerings for some of the general education credits.

The hands-on portion of the programs will be taught at Yeager Airport in Charleston. The airport will become a new university off-campus facility housing classroom facilities, hangar space for the aircraft and supply support service for the aircraft.

Yeager also has agreed to offer students in the program internships, and several employees have the expertise and credentials to serve as adjunct faculty for specialized classes, like aviation law.

In collaboration with Yeager, Marshall will build a 12,000-square-foot hangar that will allow for storage and maintenance for the university's aircraft and an adjoining 10,000-square-foot building with space for classrooms, a computer lab and flight simulators. The FAA requires students complete a portion of their training with a flight simulator, whose cost will range between $300,000 and $500,000.

The hangar is estimated to cost $2 million. According to the plan, Yeager and the university are "actively engaged in seeking corporate and private grants and gifts" to reduce the university's expenses. The airport will bear the expense of preparing the site of the flight school for construction, including a new access road, security fencing and grading the land.

The hangar will house SR22 Cirrus Aircraft, a preferred model for flight schools for its avionics, safety features and resale value. It is the only manufacturer to include a parachute that the pilot can deploy in an emergency, preventing crash landings.

The university will purchase two $500,000 planes to start, with plans to purchase up to seven planes by 2023.

The Aviation School will repay the university for all capital expenses. The school's first-year income is anticipated to be $771,000 but $4.8 million by the fifth year with a positive cumulative balance by the seventh year.

Marshall also will build a residence hall on the South Charleston campus to provide housing for 25 students. The residence hall will include a cafeteria open to all South Charleston campus students. Funding for this project will come through the university's division of Facilities Management.

Justin Matthews of the Marshall University Center for Business and Economic Research predicts the local economy will experience a $19 million boost related to the building of the new facilities and the creation of 118 new jobs. In the long term, the goal is to attract the aviation industry to West Virginia, especially Yeager, once there is a steady stream of pilots.

Over the next two decades, 87 new pilots will need to be trained and ready to fly a commercial airliner every day in order to meet the growing demand for air travel, according to a 2017 CNN report. While a baccalaureate degree is not required for a commercial pilot, pilots with a degree get hired faster and advance quicker.

Fairmont State University is the only other public university in the state that offers a professional flight operation degree, but it is not as an extensive program and limited only to fixed-wing aircraft.

The board of governors also will vote on three other new degree programs: Master of Science data analytics, Bachelor of Science civil engineering and combined Bachelor of Business Administration.

The master's in data analytics will provide students with technical expertise in computational modeling, data collection and integration, data storage and retrieval, data processing, modeling and analytics, and visualization. The Weisberg Division of Computer Sciences currently offers the required core data analytics courses, and various domain emphasis will be provided using existing courses.

With no new resources needed to start the program, it will become viable the first year. The program will generate close to $3.2 million in new revenue during its first five years, according to that proposal.

The final two new programs are making changes to what is already offered in the College of Information Technology and Engineering and the College of Business.

The university has a Bachelor of Science in engineering program with an emphasis on civil engineering, but in his letter to the academic planning committee, CITE Dean Wael Zatar said the distinction has confused potential students, both international and local, who believe an emphasis is not the same as a degree in civil engineering. Zatar said graduating students believe this has hurt their chances of procuring employment and he believes the change will help in recruitment of new students.

The new business administration degree will combine six separate degree programs (management, finance, international business, economics, information systems and marketing) into a single degree program with nine majors. The proposal for that program says the benefits will be a clearer set of requirements for students, more efficient managing of curriculum issues, better assessment of the business core, better assurance of learning and more efficient administration of the programs.

The board committees meet at 9 a.m. Friday, June 28, with the full board meeting beginning at 10:30 a.m. in Bright Room A at Glade Springs Resort.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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