Due to COVID-19’s devastating effect on the airline industry worldwide, first year enrolment in Sault College’s aviation program, a longtime pillar among the institution’s program offerings, has been suspended for the 2020-21 school year.
That means there are 92 less students in the program, unable to socially distance from instructors in the program’s smaller planes.
However, senior students in the program have once again taken to the skies over the Sault.
“We are back in flying and we are planning for our new intake for next September just as normal, but our second and third year students are in the air right now,” said Ron Common, Sault College president, speaking to the college’s board of governors in its first monthly meeting of the new academic year Thursday.
Common himself is a pilot and aviation enthusiast.
“For aviation, as everyone knows now, the industry is not doing the best. The chances of these graduates getting jobs after graduation is not going to be like before. The way it was, at a certain point, there was a huge demand but after COVID, it’s went down,” noted Ali Hassan, an Aviation Technology-Flight student and a student representative on the board.
“(Still) everyone (in aviation’s second and third years) is doing great, everyone’s flying and having fun, we’re getting stuff done.”
“I can’t believe how much the world changed with COVID. Aviation was the absolute hottest industry for you to be in. Pre-COVID, there were unbelievable employment opportunities and it went to the point where it’s at a standstill...we can only hope that aviation is going to recover much more quickly than any of us think,” Common said.
The college president told the board he is pleased with the institution’s overall enrolment figures this fall.
A hybrid model of education is being delivered at the college out of concerns over possible COVID transmission, with students in hands-on programs in attendance at the college while observing COVID-19 precautions, while students in more academically based programs are learning remotely, some international students learning remotely from their home countries.
Stats presented at Thursday’s meeting showed there are 2,198 students enrolled through Sault College’s Willow Avenue campus, above a forecasted figure of 2,144, representing a 2.42 per cent increase over enrolment projections.
“Given the potential, significant, detrimental effects on enrolment due to the pandemic, and migration to remote learning and the great deal of unknowns we were looking at, I’m relieved with our actual enrolments for 2020-21,” Common said.
There are 1,493 domestic students enrolled, down from a projected enrolment of 1,594.
Common called that drop in domestic students “totally predictable,” given the approximately 100 people who would have normally enrolled in the aviation program’s first year of study.
Common also said there have been some one-year deferrals granted to Indigenous students due to concerns over poor Internet connectivity problems in a number of First Nations communities.
There are 705 international students enrolled, up from a projected 552, but still down from 1,100 international students last year.
305 of those international students are new students, Common said.
Taking COVID-19 seriously, Common told the board international students are met by Sault College staff at the Sault Ste. Marie Airport, tested for COVID-19, brought directly to local hotels and quarantined for 14 days, food and cleaning supplies delivered to them.
There are also 441 international students in Toronto and Brampton, taught by educators in partnership with Sault College, and another 500 students involved in skilled trades training, Common added.
Overall, between the Sault, Toronto and Brampton, Sault College enrolment is down 3.37 per cent from last year.
Common said he expects domestic enrolment will increase next year with the hoped-for resumption of first year aviation studies and the launch of the new Mechatronics program, offered in partnership with Toronto’s Humber College.