Cost of college poses problems for future pilots, Reedley College hopes to change that

REEDLEY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Reedley College is taking action to help more students hit the skies amid a nationwide pilot shortage, but it's not easy.

Since the Reedley College Flight Science program started in 2018, the demand for pilots has skyrocketed but their enrollment numbers are staying steady. Staff members say they'd like to see those numbers increase, but for many students, the roadblock is funding.

For Reedley College flight science student Rhys Lakela, flying is in his blood.

"My mom was a flight nurse, my dad was a flight medic and I was hooked," said Lakela.

The Prather native set his sights on Reedley College while still in high school.

"I was a junior in high school and I looked it up," said Lakela. "I was like, 'This is my ticket.'"

But he was concerned about paying for the program.

"I was able to secure a student loan and that's the only reason I'm here," said Lakela.

Not every student is that fortunate and the $60,000 price tag deters many from entering the 24-month program.

"Financial aid only covers about $30,000 of the $60,000 to get through the program," said Program Coordinator John Johnson. "Our students are shy about $30,000."

Finding that $30,000 loan isn't easy and stops many students from ever taking flight.

"They need a cosigner," explained Johnson. "The problem here in the Central Valley is it's an economically depressed area, so hoping you have a relative that qualifies as a cosigner on a $30,000 unsecured loan is extremely difficult."

Reedley College is one of the least expensive pilot training programs in the state and offers a variety of financial aid. It also accepts VA benefits. Resources that make it possible for many of the students in the program.

"That is the difference," said flight science student Blake Wilson. "If I didn't have the funding from the military, I wouldn't be able to afford it."

"I've grown so much, met so many amazing people," said Lakela. "I've become a kid from straight out of high school to a man whose experienced life."

Students in the program have access to state and federal financial aid as well as loans. The college is accepting applications for this fall.

If you're interested in learning more, you can visit their website.
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