Many college students struggle with the balance of going to class and having to work to pay for their education. Rather than waiting until after graduation to start making money, students in the UAA Aviation Degree & Airline Pilot Employment program can now start working while finishing their education.

On Wednesday, UAA and Ravn Air Group announced the launch of a new program that allows students to simultaneously complete their aviation degree and work as regional airline pilots.  

"The uniqueness is that the pilots come to us already qualified, but they are not yet finished with their undergraduate," Ravn Senior Vice President of Flight Operations Deke Abbott said. "So they get credit for their undergraduate degree, while at the same time earning a living as a new commercial pilot."

The program is a win-win for Ravn and for the students, UAA Director of Aviation Technology Paul Herrick said. 

"The employment component is the different element of this, which we are really excited about," he said. "Because students do want to get out and start making money, and start advancing their career with an actual air carrier."

UAA's aviation maintenance, piloting and air traffic control programs have been in place for nearly three decades and have supplied the aviation workforce in Alaska, Herrick said.

In year's past, piloting students would also land jobs with local commercial air companies but there was a gap between hours spent in the air and getting the graduates off the ground on their own. With a nationwide shortage of pilots, the new program with Ravn will help students earn their flight hours and already have them in the cockpit of a small commercial plane by the time graduation rolls around. 

"They have a job," Abbott said. "They are earning money which would be, for anyone in college or anyone period, is a good thing." 

The stipulation to the program is that the students must stay in college and graduate. The students cannot discontinue their education once they get a job with Ravn.

"That's not the intention, that's not how it works," Abbott said. "If they were to decide to leave the university, they would leave without enough credits to graduate. By staying in the program, they get the credits by flying with us, credited towards their degree. So it's designed to make sure they complete their degree to graduate."

The program is also designed to help Alaskans start working faster and stay in the state. 

"Getting more Alaskans to come work for our company and stay in Alaska with their friends and loved ones is exactly what we want," Ravn President & CEO Dave Pflieger said. "We want more people here, we want to create more jobs in Alaska and partnering with UAA, finding men and women interested in aviation is awesome."

Students can enroll in the UAA and Ravn pilot training program by calling Ravn and going through the interview process. Once they complete the program, they will be added to the Ravn pilot seniority list where they will be eligible for salaries starting of $36,000 per year with $15,000 annual retention bonuses for a total of $51,000. Students will also earn reimbursement for the Air Transport Pilot and Certification Training program.