Recently lowered Federal Aviation Administration hiring requirements for air traffic controllers aren't flying with everyone, as current and former ATC students wonder whether their degrees will still help them get jobs.
The University of Alaska Anchorage's ATC program is one of 36 such U.S. schools approved by the FAA. Under the old FAA hiring requirements, graduates of the program had a one-in-three chance of getting hired based on their education, according to Aviation Technology associate professor Sharon LaRue -- but the FAA recently removed that preference.
"(Students) have come here believing this was the path, because it was told to them that it was the path, and to have that taken away at the last minute seems inherently unfair," LaRue said.
To be considered for an air traffic control position, applicants must have a bachelor's degree, three years of work experience or a combination of education and work experience. In a statement explained its decision to change the hiring requirements, the FAA cites the need to recruit better-qualified candidates and reduce costs associated with testing and training.
"Improvements were made to enhance decision making and increase objectivity in the assessment of candidates," FAA officials wrote.
According to the agency, the selection process for new air traffic controllers was very competitive. Over two weeks, the FAA received more than 28,000 applications for 1,700 positions.
LaRue points out that the change could actually cost the FAA more money, because now it will have to train candidates who do not have an ATC college degree.
"They are paying for more people that potentially won't complete the training," LaRue said. "I'm not saying they won't, I'm saying ours are coming in with a very good knowledge of what the job is about and the basics of the job."
Program graduate Bryan Ralph moved to Alaska from Salt Lake City to attend UAA's program. He completed his degree in December 2013 and is now waiting to be hired. In the meantime, he works as a lab technician for the ATC program, teaching students, but he's now unsure if his education will even help him.
"It was kind of devastating because you put all this time and effort and money in everything, and then they almost tell you that it really doesn't mean anything any more," Ralph said.
Ralph says he's not sure what he'd tell others who express interest in a career as an air traffic controller.
"If someday I have kids and they say 'I want to be an air traffic controller', I can't tell them which way to go because right now it seems it's the luck of the draw," Ralph said.